On a sunny Sunday in downtown Montreal, a group gathered at Place de la Paix with a purpose. It’s Pride month and the trans and non-binary people and those who support them have come out to march.

Some people are rocking Trans Pride flags and rainbows others are rocking leather and lace, while others come as they’re most comfortable. Some have picket signs saying “Trans Rights”, “Begone TERFs” aka Trans-Exclusionary Radical Feminists, or proclaiming the rights of transgender sex workers, while others proclaim solidarity through chants and yells.

There were speeches before the march and a chance for the more obvious members of the press to snap a photo. The speeches began with an acknowledgement that everyone was standing on stolen Kanien’kehá:ka indigenous territory.

In the speeches the overall sentiment you get is one of frustration. Vincent, who uses the pronouns “they/them” expressed frustration at self-proclaimed allies in the federal and provincial government, who show up in queer spaces and Pride marches but won’t allow breast augmentation for trans women except in very specific circumstances. They expressed frustration at people who call themselves allies but follow up with no action to support transgender people and transgender people of colour.

Harley, another of the organizers who is non-binary and goes by “they/them” spoke in their speech of the alarming suicide rates among transgender youth and how denying access to transgender medicine keeps people within the transgender community from realizing their full potential. When I spoke with Harley during the march, they told me of the insane hoops transgender people must go through in order to transition.

As it stands, in order receive government funded bottom surgery – meaning surgery to transform the genitalia you had at birth into the genitalia that matches your gender identity – you need confirmation from a doctor that you’ve received hormone therapy for at least twelve months and letters from two psychologists confirming you are transgender. As psychologists generally will not provide a diagnosis of gender dysphoria – the medical term for being transgender – with a single visit and most psychotherapy is not covered under medicare, the costs can be exorbitant.

Activists like Harley would like to see the right to transition as a simple matter of informed consent between doctor and patient, a pact they make to undertake the journey together. Under the current rules the right to transition puts doctors and transgender people at odds.

Despite increasing recognition from the medical and psychiatric community that being transgender is not a mental illness, transgender people are still encountering resistance from the government and medical community who are making decisions for them without consulting them, and who have clearly not absorbed or accepted the growing medical consensus.

With the march underway moving east towards Montreal’s gay village, the air was filled with chants of “Trans Rights Are Human Rights” and “This is a march, not a parade!” – the latter showing that this was not about pretty costumes and corporate sponsorships but a call to action and a proclamation of rights.

The march is not just for transgender and non-binary people. It’s for transgender people of colour who are murdered at alarming rates. It’s for transgender and non-binary youth who face high rates of suicide. It’s for transgender sex workers who are often the victims of violence and have no protection from law enforcement.

The march came to a close at Charles S. Campbell Park where a massive picnic was set up. Food consisting of hot dogs, salads, and tofu dogs was free for guests, but donations were welcome. A stage was set up for trans artists like Candice Mitchell Krol to perform. With the chanting over, people were welcome to chill and hang out in the name of equality and the right to exist.

What was most impressive about the Trans Pride march is the efforts organizers went to make sure people felt safe and welcome. Information was provided to help disabled marchers navigate the march’s route. Smoking was prohibited within the march itself, but there were instructions and accommodations made for people who had to leave the march to do so.

That said, these kinds of events are safe spaces for marginalized groups, so for those who are cisgender and want to show their support, be on your best behavior. If you want to call yourself an ally, prove yourself with actions not proclamations and public appearances.

The trans march kicked off Montreal’s Pride week yesterday in Place de La Paix. For its third edition, the event chose to focus on the rights of trans migrants. Organizers called attention to the additional obstacles faced by transgender migrants, especially when changing their gender and name on official documents.

“It’s completely sad that trans migrants have to wait up to seven years in order to be able to change their documents while trans Canadians can easily do that, thanks to Law 35 and the Law 103,” explained Dalia Briki, spokesperson for the event.

Law 35 was passed in 2013 to allow transgender people to change their legal gender without having to undergo surgery and removed the obligation to publish their transition in the newspaper (which was actually a thing). Law 103 recently extended that right to minors.

However, this much applauded update of Quebec’s Civil Code has little effect on trans migrants since immigration procedures do not allow them to change the gender they were assigned at birth.

“We feel trans migrants have been left aside. The government did not help them, the government only helped trans Canadians,” deplores Briki, who identifies as a trans immigrant and woman of colour.

Demands trans march1in the press release include:

  • Removal of Canadian citizenship from admissibility conditions for a change of name and sex in Quebec’s Civil Code
  • That documents of immigration authorities at the provincial and federal levels recognize the actual current gender of migrants
  • That deportation of trans people cease
  • More funding for organizations specifically aiding trans migrants

Around 150 people of all ages and genders gathered in Place de La Paix around 2 PM. A couple of transgender people of colour spoke to the crowd and a short march started, followed by a pick-nick.

A special effort was made to ensure that people of all origins, economic backgrounds and abilities were included. French and English translations, as well as a sign-language interpretation were available. Organizers provided snacks and bus fares.

Speeches particularly focused on the lack of accommodations in immigration services and procedures, the disproportionate rate of violence against trans women of colour and the deportation of trans immigrants despite obvious risks to their safety.

Studies conducted in Canada and the US found alarming rates of violence against trans people, and especially trans women of colour. According to the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs, 55% of victims of hate homicide documented in the US in 2014 were transgender women. Almost all of those were women of colour.

“You don’t talk because you’re scared, you’re afraid to be in trouble. Migrants don’t say anything. Well, I’m talking now,” declared one speaker as the crowd cheered.

Pride and Representation: The Ongoing Saga

Euphorie dans le genre organized the event on the eve of the official start of Montreal’s Pride week.  Pride activities across the world have often been accused of failing to properly include both the transgender community and cultural minorities. The feud between Black Lives Matter and Toronto Pride last month brought a sudden spotlight on this issue.

Dalia Bikri is “quite worried” about the lack of representation of both communities in the Montreal chapter as well. The trans march, she says, wants to fill that void.

“I feel that trans people of colour are not involved in the organization of the big events of Pride as much as they should be. On the other side, at least in our trans march, trans people and migrants are on the front line.”

The distinctly militant aspect of the march also sets it apart from the usual Pride events, believes Bikri:

“Pride tends to be more celebratory. Our march is more militant. Our needs have not been fulfilled; our demands have not been fulfilled, that’s why we are marching.”

According to co-organizer of the march Gabrielle Leblanc, “there is not quite enough” representation of the trans community in the overall organization of Pride yet, but it’s “getting better every year.”

Montreal Pride runs from August 8th to 14th.

Despite every difference – real or imagined – between human beings, there’s one thing we all have in common: the need to pee and poo. This may seem like a juvenile introduction to a very serious topic, but it’s a point politicians often miss or ignore when discussing transgender rights.

On May 17, 2016, the International Day Against Homophobia, the Trudeau government introduced Bill C-16, a Federal law that would extend human rights protections to all Canadians regardless of gender identity. Not to be outdone, Quebec Justice Minister Stéphanie Vallée introduced Bill No 103 which would amend Quebec’s existing legislation to include gender identity as one of the prohibited forms of discrimination and make it easier for transgender teens to change their names and gender on their official documents.

Federal Bill C-16, also known as An Act to Amend the Canadian Human Rights Act and the Criminal Code, would amend the Federal Human Rights Act to include “gender identity or expression” among the prohibited reasons for discrimination. The law would also modify the Criminal Code’s subsections on hate propaganda and hate crimes.

The current law on hate propaganda defines it as advocating or promoting genocide against any identifiable group based on “colour, race, religion, national or ethnic origin, age, sex, sexual orientation, or mental or physical disability.” C-16 would expand the definition of identifiable group to include gender identity or expression. The law would also force the courts to consider evidence that a crime was motivated by bias, hate or prejudice against transgender people as an aggravating circumstance of the crime when sentencing offenders.

The proposed Quebec law is a little different because provinces cannot impose criminal sanctions. Bill No 103, also known as An Act to strengthen the fight against transphobia and improve the situation of transgender minors in particular alters the Civil Code of Quebec and the Quebec Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms to extend protections to transgender people.

Inspired by the case of David James Lazure, a fourteen year old transgender teen who had to switch to homeschooling because his McMasterville high school would not recognize his gender identity, the law would make it easier for minors age fourteen and up to get their name and gender changed on their official documents provided they have the consent of their guardian(s). The law would also amend the Quebec Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms to include “gender identity” as one of the forms of discrimination prohibited by law.

According to Justice Minister Stéphanie Vallée, the National Assembly is in agreement about the law going forward. Unfortunately, Quebec’s transgender community is going to have to wait for the bill to go through for on May 31, 2016, Vallée tabled the legislation, most likely because the National Assembly breaks for the summer on June 10th.

At the federal level, there’s a lot more opposition. This is the seventh time a bill granting equal rights to transgender people has been brought before the House of Commons. Nearly every time, the laws, previously introduced by the NDP, were killed by a mostly conservative Senate.

The arguments used by Conservatives against granting transgender people equal rights are eerily similar to those raised by bigots in the US and like those arguments, are never backed by any numbers and most revolve around bathroom use. They claim that abused women will be uncomfortable sharing a washroom with trans women and that pedophiles will use transgender protections to gain access to bathrooms so they can assault children.

gender neutral bathroom

In 2013, former Conservative MP Rob Anders said right before a commons vote that his objections were all about safeguarding “our children.” Conservative Senator Don Plett who had blocked previous trans rights bills talked about the discomfort his granddaughter would feel sharing a bathroom with a biological male.

While middle-aged male politicians are ranting about protecting children, if you ask the children what they think about transgender bathroom access, you’ll see a stark difference of opinion. As it turns out the opinion on transgender rights isn’t just split politically between liberals and conservatives, it’s also split generationally.

Gen Yers and Millenials are not quite as closed-minded as their conservative parents and are a lot more apprised of actual facts regarding transgender people in Canada.

Rachel is a nineteen year old recent high school graduate from Montreal. When asked about the bathroom issue, she said that they (transgender people) should go to the bathroom that they identify with.

In an article posted on May 24th, 2016 CBC News spoke to teens across Canada about it and the results were the same: no one saw the big deal about letting people use the bathroom of the gender they identify with. One Toronto teen even went insofar as to say that if you check the numbers, transgender students are far more at risk of harm than their cisgender peers.

“I don’t know or care what your genitalia, use the bathroom that matches your gender identity,” says Chantal Nathaniel, a thirty two year old Montrealer.

Many businesses in Montreal are showing their support for the transgender community because, as one 33 year old business owner said:

“The washrooms are spaces that don’t functionally need to be gendered.”

The transphobic arguments pushed by Conservatives are not backed by any facts. The eighteen states in the US with transgender protection bills have not seen a rise in sexual violence and there are no statistics confirming that transgender people commit sexual assaults in washrooms.

Arguments that transgender people would make cisgender people uncomfortable if they had to share a bathroom are about as worthless as advocating for racially segregated bathrooms due to xenophobia. They claim to be in the public interest when what they really are is another form of bigotry likely to die with the boomer generation.