By Olga Kwak
Earlier this year, Hamilton joined a handful of Canadian cities in drafting its own policy on gender identity and gender expression to accommodate the needs of its transgender community. This policy has put Hamilton on the cutting edge of LGBTQ2 rights in Canada as it outlines how the city commits itself to providing a “safe, respectful, and inclusive environment” for all its community members. It took a human-rights complaint filed by a transgender woman to spur the policy into existence. Although negative experiences still occur, these two actions have hopefully begun the process of destigmatizing what is essentially a human right’s issue. Trans rights are human rights. Like many before them, the transgender and gender non-binary community has moved steadily forward with their plight for self determination. It hasn’t always been an easy path.
A Brief Timeline
Before work began to change rights, gender identity and expression were protected in the provincial human rights code under “sex”, and in some cases “disabilities”. Some government documents they could change without undergoing surgery, like a driver’s license, but documents such as health card and birth certificates were not changeable.
How are trans rights a women’s issue?
For one thing, cissexism is similar to heterosexism, the assumption that heterosexuality is better and “more normal” than homosexuality or trans sexuality. Gender non-conforming people often face similar acts of violence that cis gendered women do. Transgender women are women, period. To reduce a woman to just her genitals places the same burden on the shoulders of trans gender women that feminists have been working to remove for over three centuries. Sexual violence, verbal and physical harassment, under-employment, lack of housing and health clinics are all historically issues that women have faced – and continue to face – themselves. During the council meeting prior to the policy vote, Gabriel Byrne, a transgender delegate from The Aids Network, pointed out that “recreation, housing and employment … can improve a person’s mental health and sense of belonging [in a community].” By addressing gender nonconformity and gender expression, the City has given the transgender community the opportunity to “be included in every aspect of municipal life,” as Cole Gately, Hamilton activist, educator, and co-organizer of the Hamilton Trans Health Coalition, says.