For the transgender community in Saskatchewan, it means a lot to have the federal government introducing a bill to protect transgender people from discrimination and hate speech.
“It’s a great achievement to finally have the gender identity bill as a government bill rather than a private member’s bill,” commented Mikayla Schultz, executive director of TransSask Support Services.
Similar legislation has been tabled in the House of Commons in recent years, but it never came from the ruling government party and failed to pass into law.
This province already has legal protection against gender discrimination thanks to an amendment to the Saskatchewan Human Rights Code passed in 2014.
Schultz said if it’s passed, this federal legislation will have broader implications for people working in jobs under federal jurisdiction.
“That’s going to have a huge affect on the workers in those situations in retaining their jobs, for one thing. A lot of people get fired from their jobs when they come out as transgender,” Schultz said. “Access to service providers where you may not have had access before – there’s a whole gamut of positives that come with this federal bill.”
Schultz also hopes seeing the federal legislation will help change attitudes and educate people across Canada about gender diversity.
“We’re on the cusp of a change in our society where we recognize all people as equal regardless of what their interests are, of what clothes they wear or what genitals are between their legs – I mean everyone is created equal,” she said.
Stephanie Cox is a board chair with TransSask and she also considers the inclusion of gender identity in the Canadian Human Rights Act as an enormous evolution for the rights of transgender people across the country.
She said the last time this bill was introduced by an NDP MP, it was amended by a conservative senator to force transgender people to use the bathroom that corresponded with the sex they were born with. But it was never passed into law.
“This is a reintroducing of a bill and with the Liberal majority now. I think we stand a good chance of it going through,” Cox said. “It means a huge deal to me. I’m a trans woman, and trans women and trans men and anybody that’s in the sex and gender diverse community face enormous obstacles in the world and in society. People have been fired from jobs. They’ve been refused interviews for jobs.”
She said when transgender people are placed in shelters or prisons or other facilities that only correspond to their biological sex at birth that also opens the doors to harassment and assault.
She added that transgender people have also been denied proper health care.
“They’ve been assaulted and harassed and insulted on the streets – that’s pretty common,” she explained. “I myself have been repeatedly harassed on the streets and insulted and assaulted.”
In addition to protecting against discrimination in the workplace, this bill would also amend the Criminal Code to make it a hate crime when someone is targeted based on gender identity or expression.
She describes the so-called “bathroom bills” in the U.S. as “disgusting”. She said when it comes to studies there has been no evidence of transgender people committing crimes in washrooms. She said in reality transgender people are more often the victims of threats and harassment in washrooms, it’s something she has dealt with herself in both bathrooms.