Around the world, Canada is seen as a leader in rights and equality for the gay community. Canada has lead the way as a progressive nation on same-sex marriage, equality, and adoption by same-sex couples; however, Canada is still far from protecting the rights of the entire LGBT community, specifically for transgendered people.
In recent years, the rights of transgender people have become a hot topic, especially with the international news stories surrounding the controversy of BC resident, Jenna Talackova and her right to participate in the 2012 Miss Universe Canada competition.
Last summer, Alberta Premier, Allison Redford spoke with myWebbSite.ca and was clear that she recognized the importance of protecting existing rights of the LGBT community, and to keep the dialogue open around the rights of the trans people in her province.
In British Columbia, trans-gendered people do not have explicit rights under the Human Rights Code. In just over a month, British Columbians will be headed to the polls to cast their vote to determine which party will form the next provincial government. While each party will be announcing their platforms and taking their positions on a number of topics including education, health care, and the all-important balancing of the budget, the BC NPD party is clear; the LGBT community plays an important role for their party.
“The one important thing to remember is that there is currently protection for trans folks under the Human Rights Code, but it’s not explicit,”said Spencer Chandra Hebert, BC NDP MLA for Vancouver-West End, explaining the sensitivity around the wording in the current laws. “Most trans folks do not know that. It’s not explicit, so most people do not know about it. Lawyers don’t necessarily know it, and schools do not know that.”
The BC NDP party made a conscious decision to take action and for years have been working to get equal rights for the trans-gendered community in British Columbia.
“I brought forward a private members bill a number of years ago that would explicitly protect the rights of transgendered people,” Spencer explained. “I was encouraged by everyone in the [BC NDP] caucus to craft legislation and bring it forward. I brought the bill to the legislature twice, once before Christy Clarke and once to Gordon Campbell.”
Both times the private members bill was proposed it was declined. Not to be defeated, Spencer reached out to the Attorney General, who replied thanking him for his letter, but the Human Rights Code was not currently being updated.
“Private members bills can get on to the floor as a second reading and can potentially be brought into law if the government allows it,” Spencer said, explaining the process it takes to get a bill passed. Frustrated by the governments lack of cooperation, Spencer opened up the door for the BC Liberals to made amendments. “Take it, call it whatever you want, pretend it’s a government bill – do whatever you need to do – just do it! It’s the right thing to do!”
“It’s important to remember that the Liberals were against same sex marriage until the laws came in, forcing them to change,” Spencer said. “They opposed same sex marriage. They are a party in conflict of LGBT equality through their past statement and actions. They’ve said bullying was a top concern, but then did nothing about it. Sure, they have some members who are in support of the LGBT community, but for whatever reason, it’s a community they feel they do not need to support.”
For the transgender community, action is what’s required. To deliver true equality for all British Columbians, regardless of how they identify their sexual orientation.
“They’ve had 12 years to do something – it doesn’t have to come from me,” Spencer said frustrated over the BC Liberals in-ability to update the Human Rights Code in British Columbia. “As a government they have the responsibility to protect human rights.”
Interview requests to the BC Liberal party asking for comments were declined, citing it was too risky.
Today, there are plenty of examples of members of the BC NDP who are hard at work addressing the concerns of trans-gendered people in British Columbia.
“Carole James is working with one of her trans constituents to deal with ID issues and hospital issues,” Spencer explained.
While British Columbia and Canada appear to be the leaders of equal rights, there is still a lot of work to be done.
Spencer said it best in his final remarks, “Human rights are for everyone, and when trans folks get rights, it’ll be a day of celebration for us all!”