Locals hail trans rights bill

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"We are a real people," says trans student

Shylo Rosborough said he thought he would have a great time at bible school last year.

He didn’t. Despite the assurances of the school’s organizers, school staff and students forced him to use the girls’ washroom, called him “she,” bullied him repeatedly and, in the case of one friend on Facebook, accused him of “defying God’s plan.”

All because he was a trans man.

“It was just an awful experience,” he said.

Some questioned why he had been allowed at the school in the first place, said Rosborough, 18.

“I’m not some random alien. I’m a person, too.”

A youth leader with the St. Albert Outloud group, Rosborough was one of many local gay, lesbian, and transgender advocates who hailed the tabling of Bill C-16 in the House of Commons this week.

The bill, if passed, will make it illegal to discriminate on the basis of gender identity or expression, and extend hate speech laws to cover those terms. It will also make targeting someone on those bases a hate crime subject to harsher sentences.

No one should be refused a job, barred from services, or be targeted for harassment and violence because of their gender identity or expression, said federal Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould, in a press conference minutes after tabling the bill.

“As Canadians, we should feel free and safe to be ourselves,” she said.

This is a message of hope, Wilson-Raybould said.

“This is a message to all Canadians that we live in a time where discrimination in all forms is unacceptable.”

While there are no official numbers, most scholars say that about one per cent of Canadians are transgender, said Kristopher Wells, director of the Institute for Sexual Minority Studies and Services at the University of Alberta.

“We know that the transgender community faces some of the most horrific acts of violence and discrimination today,” he continued, with Statistics Canada reporting that the LGBTQ community as a whole was the third most common target for hate crimes in Canada.

The 2015 Canadian Trans Youth Health Survey reports that two-thirds of trans youth in Canada have experienced discrimination due to their gender identity, with 70 per cent reporting sexual harassment and 36 per cent being threatened or experiencing physical violence in the last year.

Although gender identity and expression have been read into other human rights laws, it’s hugely important for these protections to be made explicit by the federal government, Wells said.

“Being named tells you that your identity has value and you are recognized as a person,” he said.

St. Albert-Edmonton MP Michael Cooper said he would vote in favour of this bill when it returned to the House.

“The greatest strength of Canada is in our diversity,” he said.

“We do stand united in our opposition to discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity.”

Supporting documents for the bill note that it would also codify the right of Canadians whose gender identity is female but who have male anatomical traits to use the woman’s washroom.

“Transgendered and other gender diverse Canadians already use gender-appropriate bathrooms and pose no greater threat than anyone else in doing so,” the documents note.

There have been no proven cases of a person claiming to be trans in order to get into a bathroom to commit a crime, Wells said, citing a common argument raised around this topic. Even if there were one, it would be an exceptional occurrence and covered by the Criminal Code.

“This fear and panic that people are trying to propagate just doesn’t exist.”

This bill won’t stop discrimination against trans Canadians, but it should raise awareness of trans issues and gender identity, Rosborough said.

“It shows that we are a real people and have the right to be who we are.”

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Kevin Ma

Kevin Ma joined the St. Albert Gazette in 2006. He writes about Sturgeon County, education, the environment, agriculture, science and aboriginal affairs. He also contributes features, photographs and video.