Bill 140: Will It Improve Treatment of Trans Nova Scotians?

By Sara Mukherji

November 30, 2012 brought about a major victory for the transgendered population in Nova Scotia. After years of lobbying and hard work, gender identity and gender expression have been included in the provincial Human Rights Act, a victory for transgendered residents, which can only be compared to the September 2004 Nova Scotia Supreme Court ruling which allowed same sex couples to marry for the first time. 

No longer does the transgendered population have to worry they will be denied the right to rent an apartment because of who they are. No longer can they be denied the right to use the bathroom which reflects their gender identity. No longer do transgendered people have to report discrimination as sexism. Now a trans person can claim discrimination on the basis of her or his gender identity to the Nova Scotia Human Rights Commission.

While legislation may eliminate discrimination on paper and legal documents, does it truly eliminate transphobia or gender identity discrimination? Have we truly come out of the Dark Ages when it comes treating all members of society equally? For instance, self-styled pro-family advocates in Nova Scotia have dubbed Bill 140 as the “bathroom bill” and have shown absolutely no consideration for a group of people who have suffered and experienced blatant and subtle discrimination because of who they are. They feel that judging people according to their narrow standards is acceptable.

An old transgendered friend of mine once told me that when discrimination is prohibited in legislation, the bigots become “smarter” about how they manifest their prejudice and hatred toward members of a certain group. For example, in the Southern United States people of colour are no longer required to sit at the back of the bus or drink from separate water fountains. Nevertheless, they still face more discrimination than their Caucasian counterparts in the job market – 70% are unemployed, as opposed to 30% of white people in the same region.

Similarly, the superintendent of an apartment complex will look for loopholes to evict a transgendered tenant. If another tenant makes a complaint about a transgendered neighbor, it is their word against the transgendered tenant. The superintendent or landlord may then evict the transgendered tenant based on hearsay evidence. Bill 140 outlaws discrimination on the basis of gender identity, and a can lodge a complaint with the Nova Scotia Human Rights Commission, but such complaints can drag on for years. It may cost the transgendered victim thousands of dollars in legal fees and they will be subject to the emotional and psychological stress from fighting the act of discrimination.

Bill 140 is a step in the right direction, but the elimination of real discrimination can only be achieved through public education, in person or through the media and the Internet. Just as public littering is frowned upon and fined today, discrimination against transgendered people must come with monetary or punitive consequences. Otherwise transphobia and discrimination against transgendered individuals in Nova Scotia will be around forever. Unfortunately, in that case, my friend’s opinion will hold true. The bigots will only become “smarter” about discriminating against a particular group.

Sara Mukherji frequently writes about Trans issues in Wayves. Photo shows activist and NSRAP Director Kate Shewan with NDP Minister, Leonard Preyra at the press conference introducing the government's plan to amend the NS Human Rights Act to include Gender Identity and Gender Expression.

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