Trans* rights matter

"Trans* people often find themselves at the margins of society." 

Rights not rescue

Hello from Ottawa!

The last time I was here it was winter and I’d come to tell a parliamentary committee that the Conservative party’s plan to restrict access to supervised injection services like Insite was unconstitutional. Unsurprisingly, my comments were not well-received. But this time, in the middle of a federal election campaign, Ottawa feels like a place full of possibility and change. I wish I could stay to breathe it all in, but Ottawa is not my final destination.

I’m writing to you from the domestic departure lounge, waiting for my connecting flight to Halifax. I’m enroute to the annual meeting of the Canadian Professional Association for Transgender Health, Canada’s main gathering for health professionals who deliver direct care to trans* people in communities across the country. I’ve never been to a CPATH event before, so I’m not really sure what to expect. Lots of doctors? A few lawyers, and some really staggeringly talented community activists? I hope so, and I hope what I’m presenting goes over better than my last talk on this side of the country.

I’m going to share Pivot’s experience working with transgender, transsexual, and gender-creative people in the Downtown Eastside.

We meet transfolk in all our campaign areas—trans* people often find themselves at the margins of society. For reasons that are all too familiar, trans* people tend to be disproportionately homeless, are over-policed, and often use drugs and do sex work. Trans* people face specific dangers accessing shelter, healthcare, and in jail. This is often because of heartbreaking discrimination in housing, employment, and social services.

The rampant discrimination marginalized trans* people face can sometimes be addressed through legal action. This is possible when trans* people are aware of their basic rights under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, the Canadian Human Rights Act, provincial Human Rights Codes, and applicable local trans* inclusion policies like the one the Vancouver Park Board and Vancouver Schools Boards passed last year.  

However, formal recognition and legal action can only move our community so far towards justice. Profound social change must, at its root, be political and social as well. Pivot’s work has always been community-driven and we hope that our work in court ultimately means something when we come down the courthouse steps and back to the neighbourhood.

This is the first time that I will talk about Pivot’s work and our model for social change with our trans* neighbours in mind. I’m nervous, because I feel like it is a little bit rich for a lawyer (and a Pivot lawyer at that) to go to a meeting of doctors to tell them that the law is a powerful tool, but not a magic bullet. Maybe it is because I’m an activist at heart, or maybe there is something special in the air in Ottawa today, but I’m hoping at least some heads nod when I tell them that I believe in the power of communities to make positive change for themselves, and that I’m very hopeful.

Wish me luck!

Follow Adrienne at #CPATH15 on Twitter @VanAlias 

Photo by flickr/taedc