Members of Canada’s Transgender and Gender-Variant Communities–including Canadians who identify as Agender, Gender Non-Conforming, Non-Binary and Two-Spirited–experience daily discrimination that impacts them in many ways both large and small.
T.E.N. Points for Trans Equality
Coming out to intolerant family can put Transgender and Gender-Variant people at risk of abuse (both physical and emotional), “reparative” conversion therapy and eviction. For many Transgender and Gender-Variant youth, coming out to their family simply isn’t an option because of this potential risk, and consequently remain closeted–suffering daily misgendering and invisibility–while financially dependent on family members.
Remaining closeted while living at home or otherwise dependent on family members for economic support means that Transgender youth have to delay the process of transition. Not only is this a source of tremendous stress, but consequently transition becomes more involved and costly, because some biological characteristics become more inflexible and difficult to change with puberty and time passing. With health coverage for Transgender and Gender-Variant Canadians already compromised, this can lead to greater financial burden and is a deterrent to people being able to comfortably make the transition.
While conversion therapy targeting Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Queer people has not been an accepted or funded medical treatment in Canada for decades, treatment for Transgender and Gender-Variant children still manages to have some traction despite being against official medical standards and ethics. Family members subjecting their children to conversion therapy are committing abuse and risking their long-term health and well-being. Transgender and Gender-Variant youth already suffer a higher likelihood of attempting suicide.
People loving and accepting Transgender and Gender-Variant family members is the cornerstone for Transgender and Gender-Variant Canadians to have happy, healthy and longer lives. Without the support of family, it can be hard to build the strength to fight against the inequality and discrimination Transgender and Gender-Variant people face in their day-to-day lives. PFLAG offers support groups for people with Transgender and Gender-Variant children and family members, and has even developed a free guidebook for raising a Transgender child.
The reality is that Transgender and Gender-Variant Canadians have very specific medical needs but face significant obstacles to receiving sufficient healthcare reflective of their circumstances. Despite the fact that any doctor can prescribe Hormone Replacement Therapy, they are neither trained nor encouraged to treat members of the Transgender community, most of them ultimately declining to take them on as patients. There continues to be a lack of significant research into Transgender and Gender-Variant health issues in Canada, and what research there is often shows a clear negative bias.
Provincial funding for healthcare programs specifically serving the Transgender and Gender-Variant communities is minimal and continues to come under threat from budget cuts, even when programs continue for the larger LGBTQ2+ community. In British Columbia, there only one doctor able to assess Transgender and Gender-Variant individuals for permission to receive transitional surgeries covered by MSP. The list of surgeries covered by MSP is small; for trans masculine individuals, only mastectomy is covered. For trans feminine individuals, MSP will only cover Orchiectomy performed within British Columbia, or full gender confirmation surgery available in Quebec (without covering associated expenses). While breast augmentation, vaginoplasty and phallopasty are all performed by doctors in B.C., none of those surgeries is covered by MSP.
Extended health coverage varies from province to province, with many group medical plans refusing to cover treatments and surgeries, or providing barriers to access services when they are offered.
Within Vancouver, Transgender and Gender-Variant health services are largely provided by the Catherine White Holman Wellness Centre, a volunteer-run organization created in wake of funding cuts to Vancouver General Hospital Gender Clinic. Because the CWHWC is perceived as filling a gap in healthcare on an entirely volunteer basis, provincial funding has not been restored. People wishing to support medical programs that service the specific needs of the Transgender and Gender-Variant communities of Vancouver are encouraged to donate to the Catherine White Holman Wellness Centre and contact their elected representatives to advocate for more provincial funding.
Within Canada, there is a lack of HIV/AIDS organizations that offer inclusive service and outreach for Transgender and Gender-Variant Canadians; the majority of programs focused on HIV/AIDS treatment, prevention and education still target cisgender gay men. Transgender and Gender-Variant Canadians are rarely–if ever–included in research or policy decisions, essentially making their needs and risks invisible.
The reality is that HIV/AIDS services for Transgender and Gender-Variant people–particularly Transgender women, potentially one of the largest groups at risk–are not receiving provincial funding. While groups providing HIV/AIDS have made progress in officially welcoming Transgender Canadians, in practice there is a lack of funding, resources and training to be truly inclusive. And while there are clinics available to service many specific identities within the LGBTQ2+ community, there are none that specifically address Transgender and Gender-Variant needs or operate out of areas in Vancouver where those populations live.
To see more inclusive services and support aimed specifically at Transgender and Gender-Variant Canadians living with HIV/AIDS, people are encouraged to reach out to their elected representatives to demand that funding be allocated to support these members of our community.
Coming out often leaves Transgender and Gender-Variant Canadians in a situation where their economic status is in the hands of people who are actively discriminating against them, people who may be unwilling to hire them or rent to them. Family members may choose to evict them. They may also be put into situations where they have to choose between personal safety and shelter. Youth in the community are particularly at risk. As well, many homeless shelters discriminate against members of the Transgender and Gender-Variant communities, or will outright stop them accessing services.
Much of what is being done to combat homelessness and poverty in the Transgender and Gender-Variant communities is being done by members of those communities pulling together to create support networks, like the Saige Community Food Bank on the East Side of Vancouver, an organization that provides safe and inclusive service for Transgender and Gender-Variant people in need. Saige also has a community kitchen. One way people can show support for members of the Transgender and Gender-Variant communities who are faced with homelessness is to support the Saige Community Food Bank, either by donating food or time. Saige, like many of the services offered to the Transgender and Gender-Variant communities, is entirely volunteer, and relies on support from community members.
The mechanisms to change one’s identification to match one’s true Gender Identity can vary significantly, province to province or even city to city; within BC, procedures have actually improved, with organizations like ICBC no longer requiring individuals to go through gender confirmation surgery before updates can be made.
Transgender and Gender-Variant Canadians experience a great deal of discrimination that impacts their health, safety and economic status.
While Sexual Orientation is protected under both the Canadian Human Rights Act and the British Columbia Human Rights Code, there is no such language protecting Gender Identity and Expression. Similarly, violence based on Sexual Orientation is classified as a hate crime but violence based on Gender Identity is not.
While legislation was passed in the House of Commons that would correct this gross oversight, unelected senators blocked the bill for two years before ultimately amending it to include language that would make it a felony for Transgender and Gender-Variants to use public restroom facilities that match their true Gender Identity and Expression.
There have been some advances made within Vancouver towards addressing inequality towards the Transgender and Gender-Variant communities. After lengthy public consultation, the Vancouver School Board made universal restroom facilities mandatory throughout the school district, and the Parks Board has conducted similar consultation with the Trans* and Gender-Variant Working Group to begin to make similar changes to parks facilities.
This is an important moment for LGBTQ+ rights in Canada, and it is essential that all Canadians stand together to guarantee a just society for all. Canada needs equal protection for Transgender and Gender-Variant Canadians now, at all levels of government and it’s up to Canadians to reach out to their representatives to demand change.
Unintentional misgendering happens because of ingrained ideas about how people of different genders should present. Deliberate misgendering is an act of violence, and puts Transgender and Gender-Variant people at risk of further physical violence and discrimination. Many media outlets continue to misgender Transgender and Gender-Variant Canadians even when reporting on their victimization.
A lot of us aren’t used to having to ask for people’s pronouns. We’re used to assuming, based on people’s bodies and appearances, who they are and what gender they are.
But people’s genders don’t always correspond to how they look or sound or dress. Just because you think someone looks cisgender doesn’t mean that they are, and transgender people can be at many different stages of their journey.
All you need to do is ask: What are your pronouns? Some people may use conventional pronouns like “he” or “she.” Other people may identify as non-binary or agender, using pronouns like “they” (singular), “one,” “ze,” “sie” or “hir.” Some may only use their names, not identifying with any pronouns. Pronouns may change over time.
This can be a lot to keep straight and it means changing the way you think, but it’s essential for showing respect. Transgender and Gender-Variant people have their identities, their bodies and their experiences judged and denied and erased every day. This is a step towards stopping that. This is how we show members of our community that they aren’t alone.
Because of employment discrimination, Transgender and Gender-Variant Canadians are left with few options and often resort to the underground economy, putting them further at risk of violence, particularly when faced with unpredictable treatment by the police and the potential to be incarcerated in prison facilities that do not reflect their true Gender Identity and Expression.
Faced with barriers to comprehensive healthcare or housing, Transgender and Gender-Variant Canadians are at a much higher risk for HIV/AIDS and other STIs when they are conducting sex work, and often experience greater marginalization from the LGBTQ+ community as a whole.
An important resource for female identified Transgender and Gender-Variant sex workers in Vancouver is the WISH Drop-In Centre. WISH provides services–including meals, supplies, showering facilities, on-site nursing–and programs like Supported Employment and a Learning Centre. WISH’s programs and services are inclusive of Transgender and Gender-Variant individuals and aim to create a safe space. WISH also manages the Mobile Access Project in partnership with PACE, an overnight support van that addresses the needs of women engaging in the night. People who want to help important resources like WISH are encouraged to donate and volunteer.
Employment can be an incredibly tenuous situation for many Transgender and Gender-Variant Canadians, particularly once they begin to transition. Discrimination and lack of legal protections under British Columbia’s Human Rights Code mean that people can experience workplace harassment and termination, putting them at a severe economic disadvantage–they may be faced with homelessness and the lack of steady income means that appropriate healthcare becomes that much more difficult to find. Often they’re put into dangerous situations simply to survive.
Despite this, there are no government employment programs geared towards supporting Transgender and Gender-Variant Canadians, and people wishing to support the Transgender and Gender-Variant communities are encouraged to speak to their elected representatives and express the need for them. Additionally, people can become advocates in their own workplace, encouraging the development of policies to ensure the safety and respect for Transgender and Gender-Variant co-workers and patrons.
Not only do Transgender and Gender-Variant Canadians experience a high rate of violent assault, they are often treated as though they bring these assaults on themselves simply based on their Gender Expression. They are often unable to report assaults, are denied service when they do report, and can even face further assaults within the legal system. If they make a self-defense claim, they’re often treated as if they’ve committed the assault, or even murder.
Under the Canadian Criminal Code, there is no language that defines violence against someone based on their Gender Identity and Expression as a hate crime. People are encouraged to advocate for legislation that would amend this, in order to protect Transgender and Gender-Variant people from physical abuse.