On Bill C-279, state violence and institutional transphobia

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On Wednesday February 25, the Canadian Senate voted 6-4 to amend Bill C-279. Bill C-279 is federal Bill that seeks to bring rights and equality to transgender Canadians, sponsored by NDP MP Randall Garrison and which passed in the house of commons two years ago.

The amendments the Senate wants would essentially render Bill C-279 useless.

Senator Donald Plett with the support of the senate wants the Bill modified so that trans people will not be able to access any 'sex-segregated' facility, such as shelters, crisis facilities, washrooms, school and gym change rooms.

The Senate even wants the term 'gender identity' itself removed -- the very right for trans people to identify as the gender they are, rather than which gender was assigned to them at birth.

"I will use men because I believe they are biologically male," said Senator Plett when referring to trans women.

So there you have it: Senator Plett thinks trans women, like me, are men. Now if he thinks trans women are men, of course he will argue that we trans women should not be allowed to access services and safe spaces for women.

"This act will no longer allow biological males to identify as female and gain access to vulnerable persons," Plett later went on to say. Not only is he referring to trans women as men, he is suggesting they are a threat to girls and women just by using the women's washroom.

Imagine how it feels for trans women like myself when we are called a threat because of are gender? How it feels to be told your body is dangerous?

Plett is also implicitly telling cis women that they should feel unsafe around trans women and that young girls should fear us. As an adult, Plett is telling young trans girls that they should not be allowed to use the girls washroom or change room in school.

These words and actions by Plett promote the isolation and othering of trans kids. Kids who already have high rates of depression and anxiety.

In February 2014 Amnesty International made a statement regarding Bill C-279:

"We recognize the violence and discrimination faced by the trans/transsexual/transgender/ intersex/two-spirit/gender variant ("trans") community in Canada. In a recent nationwide survey, 74 per cent of transgender youth reported experiencing verbal harassment in school, and 37 per cent reported experiencing physical violence. Transgender individuals in Ontario face unemployment over three times the national rate and many more are underemployed. As a result of discrimination and bullying, the trans community faces high rates of mental health issues. Rates of depression are as high as two-thirds; 77 per cent of transgender individuals in Ontario report having considered suicide, and 43 per cent have attempted suicide at least once"

As a trans woman, I find so many things about what happened in the Senate disturbing and terrifying and it leaves me scared for my trans sisters.

Lets says as a trans woman I am in a situation where my partner or boyfriend is violent towards me and I need to leave. Should I really not be allowed to access a women's shelters and seek services that would help me? Possibly save my life?

Where can trans women who are experiencing domestic violence go?

Or what about trans women who lose their homes because of discrimination? What about young trans girls who are kicked out of homes because of transphobic parents? Trans women adults who lose jobs when they come out because of discrimination and end up homeless?

Where can they go when the government says they have no right to access shelters for women? 

The general argument used by Plett (and supported by other Senators) and people like Plett is that giving trans women rights to access services for women will traumatize cis women and make it okay for men to pretend to be women as a way to harm women.

Why should a group of women such as a trans women, a group of women already heavily discriminated against be denied the safety of women's spaces?

Trans women are women and trans women are simply seeking the same rights and services as other women. To deny trans women safety and resources is violence against women. To deny trans women access to safe spaces for women because of what a man might do is to blame women for male violence against women. It's misogyny, its transmisogyny, its state sanctioned violence against trans people, especially trans women, even more so trans women of colour.  


Sophia Banks is a photographer and trans activist. You can follow her on Twitter.

Photo: flickr/ Adrian Lee

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