Ottawa LGBT History: The Fight for Trans Rights

It's been said that trans rights are at least 20-30 years behind gay rights in the larger LGBT liberation struggle. Although there have always been trans people, just like there have always been gays, lesbians and bisexuals, its only quite recently that we've seen an active trans movement in more progressive countries such as Canada.

The reality is that in many places, in Canada and around the world, being openly trans is still a constant struggle, if not extremely dangerous and life-threatening. It can be difficult, if not impossible, to maintain your job while transitioning, and it's likely that trans persons may lose some if not many of their existing friends or family members. The public at large can be openly hostile, as trans people are frequently targets of transphobic hate speech and assault.

Unfortunately, transphobia even exists in the larger LGBT community. Things most cisgender people take for granted can be fraught with dangers, such as simply going to the bathroom of their preferred gender if they are identified as trans by others. Initially, many trans persons in Ottawa who dared to be open became involved in the larger queer movement.

Joanne Law is perhaps the best known of these early trans activists. Law lost her job when coming out and struggled ever since to find work. If affected her family and in other ways that would seem unimaginable to most. Her passion as a trans activist is legendary and she got involved in many community organizations, including Pride and the Police Liaison Committee.

Ben Murray is another long-time community activist who was also involved in several community organizations, and is now with the Ottawa Senior Pride Network.

Gender Mosaic, a trans social and support group, forms in 1988, being the first trans support group in all of Canada. They start off as a small, informal group of cross-dressers and transsexuals and a safe phone line, with meetings held privately in homes or at vetted restaurants deemed safe, but have now grown to be a registered charity that serves the entire trans community.

In terms of trans rights, specifically in regards to the Canadian Human Rights Act, sexual orientation is added as a prohibited ground of discrimination in 1995 (Egan v Canada), but gender identify or expression is not. Bill Siksay introduces a bill to include trans protections in the Charter in 2005, then 2006, then 2009, but it fails each time. In both 2005 and 2011, the bill dies at the Senate level. Bill C-16, which aims to include gender identity or expression in the Charter, is introduced in 2016, and finally passes in June 2017.

In 2012, trans people can change their sex on birth certificate in Ontario without sex reassignment surgery and only a letter written and signed by a doctor or psychologist. The change to the Charter means that as of 2017, all provinces and territories in Canada must also allow this.

While these laws are certainly important and groundbreaking, trans lives are still challenging as society takes time to catch up and be more accepting. Hopefully we will see trans people being able to live more freely and securely in the very near future.

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