After Census snub, Canada's trans community feels like it doesn't count

Image: Amanda Taylor

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Some members of the transgender community can't help but feel institutionally overlooked after the 2016 census failed to include options for transgender people.  

Groups supportive of LGBTQ rights fear that what may seem like a small oversight by not including non-binary gender options on the census is what leads to entire demographic segments being overlooked both culturally and legislatively. 

"The lack of options, the lack of dialogue, the lack of conversation -- this is what hurts people. When you literally erase identities and you don't validate them you're saving face for oppression" said Jeremy Dias executive director of the Canadian Centre for Gender and Sexual Diversity.

"It starts with the government"

The Trudeau government has taken a number of steps to foster diversity. Last week it announced that it would be putting forward a bill to protect transgender people. Ironically, the government has overlooked the transgender community while trying to learn more about the demographic make up of the country.

While social media was filled with posts about Canadians excited to participate in this year's census, not everyone was eager to participate. Amanda Taylor, a business women and entertainer who happens to be a transgender women, feels that the census put her in a box, specifically a little male or female checkbox.

"People feel like it's okay to condemn, judge and look down on transgender people because our government doesn't even recognize us. You know it starts with that, it starts with the government, it always has and always will," said Taylor.

Taylor has been waiting for political action to allow her to be included in the Canadian census since 2001, when she first complained to her MP, the human rights board and the media. Newspaper clippings from 2001 reveal interviews with Taylor in both The Toronto Star and The Globe and Mail, where she is calling for the inclusion transgender people in the census.

"Consultation" not sufficient

According to Statistics Canada, the agency responsible for conducting the national census, Canadians are consulted to determine what information should be collected. In an email interview, a Statistics Canada representative raised this consultation when asked about the omission.

"After extensive consultations and testing, the questions for the 2016 Census Program were finalized and the questionnaires printed. No major issue was brought forth during consultation and testing for the question on sex," Anthony Ertl, Media Relations Officer, Communications for Statistics Canada told rabble.ca.

When asked if Statistics Canada intends to make the census more inclusive, the representative again stated that they would do extensive public consulting and testing with Canadians to see if there are new ways to collect data.

This does not sit well with Taylor who has been expressing concern publicly about this issue for the last 15 years to both the media and government and wants to see change now.

Children of same-sex couples are also being excluded. A question about a citizen's parents' country of birth on the long-form census presupposes that parents cannot be of the same sex. 

Statistics Canada's representative stated that this question was asked to collect information regarding the economic status of second generation Canadians and not the gender or relationship of that person's parents. 

An accurate picture of a diverse nation essential

Both Taylor and the Canadian Council for Gender and Sexual Diversity agree that not including non-binary gender options means that the government and Statistics Canada are not getting an accurate picture of the citizens that make up this diverse country. They argue that a census that doesn't include accurate gender information creates unreliable information that will be a detriment for the entire country.

"How can Statistics Canada do statistics if they don't even know how many trans people are out there, how many of us exist and how many people out there don't want to be considered any particular gender," said Taylor. 

The government has offered alternatives for people who do not subscribe to binary gender norms. According to a statement from Statistics Canada, census respondents can choose to leave this question blank and indicate their reasons in the comment section. However, Taylor claims it takes multiple attempts to move past the gender question online, which she fears, could lead people to believe they must choose a binary gender.

Taylor says this is only a timely example of the hoops transgender people have to jump through in order to properly identify who they are. Most government identification including passports, health cards and driver licenses require a binary gender. Not only are there no non-binary gender options, but the Canadian passport also requires citizens like Taylor to identify themselves with the sex they had at birth.

"Could you imagine how that feels, you reach the border, your picture is female, your standing in front of them looking like a female, your name is female, everything about you is female and they see male marked on your passport. Doesn't that put up a red flag?" said Taylor

Taylor fears that the government's passive practice of ignoring the transgender community is what leads Canadians to ignore the same community.

Although Taylor has concerns about the systematic treatment of transgender people she also has hope for the future. Taylor wants to see what actual actions the prime minister takes to help the LGBTQ community but she has faith that with the new government things will get better. 

"You know when you give up your faith you got nothing, so yes I do have faith," said Taylor. "And if they don't make those changes there's a lot more of us now and were not afraid anymore.

"So they will have a fight on their hands if they don't come forward with what they said they'd come forward with."

Albert Van Santvoort loves using unique, innovative ways of storytelling. He has an incredibly uncool obsession with following international and domestic news, politics and current affairs. He is a journalist who's worked in both radio and print and he's getting his master degree in journalism at UBC.

Image: Amanda Taylor

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