Trans Rights and Visibility for Peel Residents: Celebrating Bill C-16

Photo of Trans, non-binary and gender diverse activsts, allies, friends and family the day Bill C-16 passed, inside Senator Grant Mitchell office. Image courtesy of Amanda Jetté Knox.

This month, Brampton and Peel’s Trans, non-binary and gender diverse residents were extended human rights protections against transphobic hate speech and hate crimes with Bill C-16 becoming law. It may seem like a logical step, but the journey saw previous bills rejected and efforts from activists, lawyers and lawmakers alike fighting for national protections year-after-year in Canada’s Senate.

The Road to Bill C-16

Peel resident, Sherry Sylvain, described what it was like to be working to get Bill C-16 passed, “When it was in the Senate for readings, I was involved in an extensive program of e-mail solicitation to every Senator in the country- twice.”

Sherry Sylvain with Peel resident, Arron Smaller at a 2014 Pride event. Image Credit: Lisa Arrigo.

She went on to further explain that, “As one is in early transition, or even when one has fully transitioned, employers could discriminate and terminate individuals of whom they disapprove. In general dealings such as services, retail shopping, restaurants, etc., individuals in transition could be refused service, asked to leave a gender specific store or be verbally or physically abused. All of these situations are now addressed by Federal legislation. Although Ontario already recognized gender identity and expression under Provincial Human Rights legislation, it’s important to recognize that such protections are now universal throughout Canada.”

Laura Vincent, Brampton resident spoke about the importance of Bill C-16 to protect the community, “My hope that this legislation will decrease the instances of assault and discrimination that too many of my fellow community members face.” 

Matthew Sutton, Trans man and activist, however, had words of caution about putting all of our faith in Bill C-16 as a fix all. “Not to put a damper on the bill, it is amazing and a wonderful step for Canada. I just don’t think it offers the impenetrable defense and safety people hope for.”

Being Trans in Peel

Bill C-16 won’t automatically fix the issues but for many living in Peel it signifies that times are changing, with more resources available compared to five and ten years ago. Former Peel resident, Lily Harryett, said, “I started my transition while living in Heart Lake. It was December 2010 and I was going to either end my life or transition. I finally found a proper support system in East Mississauga Community Health Centre and Family Services of Peel. Then I heard about Gender Journeys at Sherbourne Health in Toronto.”

Sutton said of inclusion in city services in Toronto and suburban centres like Brampton, that you can feel, “Removed. Removed from the resources and organizations and community health centers in the city built specifically for gender diverse people to feel safe in and welcomed to. Removed from support groups and validation. All of this especially speaks to youth, who don’t have access to a vehicle, are too young to drive, can’t afford the cost or time of transit, or whose parents wouldn’t dream of driving them into the city for such “obscenities”.

Laura recounts a sense of isolation, “Deciding to come out was a difficult choice. I knew more or less, that I’d be alone day-to-day. I broke off my relationship of eight years because there was no future for it and I didn’t really have any friends and no family close by. I commuted to work five days a week and so I often felt anxious because I knew I didn’t pass, and it meant facing the looks and trying unsuccessfully to not hear people’s hurtful remarks.”

There is often a very real fear of violence and she pointed out, “You always hear stories of LGBT individuals being exiled by their family, or beaten to death and I often wondered if that would become my story.”

Laura didn’t encounter these barriers, though GLAAD did name 2016 the deadliest year for the community in the United States. It is difficult to understand hate crimes committed or identified in Canada because hate crime data will only now reflect violence against Trans, non-binary and gender diverse folks. With no historic data to reflect community safety up to this point, an entire group of this country’s people most vulnerable to violence were erased from the very data that would help make it safer. 

Looking Ahead

“What I’m hoping for is that youth and adults today will not feel discriminated against, that employers and schools will teach inclusion, that more businesses and leaders will be educated because of this bill. I hope too that this will improve the lives of Trans people of all kinds and that things like the unemployment and suicide rates go down,” Lily said, noting the sense of hope the bill gave her.

Laura had words of wisdom for Trans, non-binary and gender diverse folks in Peel, “You’ve got to follow your heart. Listen to your inner voice. Don’t let the fear of what’s out there stop you from being you. There’s nothing harder than living life in denial of who you really are. It can be scary at first, but it’s also a very liberating process. You get out there and do you.”

“What I can any person who is struggling with transitioning or accepting gender identity or expression is that they should reach out. There are various groups available on Facebook such as Toronto Trans Alliance, Trans Beauty Network and others where they can find support and information, and retain anonymity if they wish,” said Sherry, offering further resources for residents.

Activist Susan Gapka, who was instrumental in the many years of trying to pass bills like C-16 and in Ottawa the day it passed summed it up that, “Whereas, 20 years ago we could barely get three people to a protest for Trans rights, each time we met, introduced legislation, received positive media coverage, we have grown, evolved and achieved political agency. Today Trans, non-binary family members, supporters and allies feel the outcome of our labour and achieve social inclusion into Canadian society. We have become persons, protected persons, loved persons and equitable persons.”

There is still a long road ahead, but Bill C-16 represents important conversations, respect and renewed human rights recognition for Trans, non-binary and gender diverse Peel residents.

The Peel HIV/AIDS Network was contacted but declined to comment on the importance of Bill C-16 for Peel residents.