Trans* Rights: Legislation Alone Is Not Enough

Posted by Wayves Volunteer Hugo Dann 10/04/2013

by Hugo Dann

On Tuesday, April 9, CTV Atlantic's evening news reported on the situation of a trans* student who was threatened with suspension if she continued using the girls' washroom at Hants East Rural High School in Nova Scotia. Judy Dwyer and her daughter, Jessica Durling, spoke with CTV News about Ms. Durling's interaction with school authorities.

“I was shocked, hurt,” the 17-year-old said. “I thought about not just me, but everyone who will get hurt by this. I just want to live a normal life, you know.” Ms. Dwyer, who supported Jessica's transition, told CTV that "[her] daughter is like any other teenager. ... It is painful to see her targeted for simply being herself." You can read the original CTV News article here

This is one of two recent stories in the mainstream media about trans* youth and transphobia in the region. On Sunday morning, CBC Radio's Maritime Magazine broadcast a half-hour documentary about two trans* men, Jay Jonah and Trevor Williams, attending university on Prince Edward Island (you can listen here, it's worth it!). These stories have many similarities, beyond their regional focus.

Both stories draw attention to the importance of strong family support, and how challenging it can be if that's not forthcoming. Both stories highlight the toxic effect of indirect transphobia, the overheard remarks, the sense of apprehension in social settings and in public spaces. Both stories address how important it is for anyone to be able safely to use a public washroom, be it gender neutral or conforming to one's gender identity or gender expression. Finally, both stories clearly indicate that laws to providing equal protection to trans* people are only part of the solution.

In Ottawa, the House of Commons has narrowly passed such legislation (Bill C-279 is now before the Senate). Nova Scotia amended its Human Rights Act last November to include gender identity and gender expression; PEI is planning to do the same. Why, then, some six month's after trans* inclusive legislation was introduced in the provincial legislature, do Nova Scotia's schools seem to be without even a basic Dept. of Education policy in place for trans* students and their teachers? Jessica Durling had apparently been using the girls washroom since September. What steps were being taken by school authorities to make sure her transition was as smooth as possible, for all students?

Sheena Jamieson, Support Services Coordinator at the Youth Project (surely one of the best LGBTQ organizations in the country!) talked about this with CTV: “We are in this place where we have this population saying ‘OK, I want to be in my school, part of my school. I want to contribute to my community. How can I do that in a meaningful way?' And this other group is saying, ‘We don’t know, we haven’t prepared for it.’ So we’re at this point where we need to start preparing.”

That was exactly the situation for gays and lesbians in 1991 when sexual orientation was added to to the Nova Scotia Human Rights Act. But, once the legislation was passed, little, if anything, else was done. As a community we know how hard we have been working since to change hearts and minds. The three, brave,  young trans* people in these stories should not have to shoulder this burden of public advocacy alone, nor should the trans* community. The trans* community is integral to the solution, but, as allies, we can also play a part. If we are to see something other than a dismal repeat of history for our trans* sisters and brothers, we must remind our governments that, hand-in-hand with any equal rights legislation, there must be policy initiatives and education. We can start by writing to our provincial Human Rights Commissions and our provincial education ministers.

The two trans* men at UPEI and Jessica Durling, courageously putting themselves before the public to help raise awareness and assert their right to be themselves, give me hope for the future. And while the media's attention may wander, their stories are far from over. For Ms. Durling, at least this chapter on institutional transphobia seems to be closing on a somewhat positive note. The Chignecto-Central Regional School Board have announced they are dropping her suspension and developing new guidelines for schools to serve all of the students in their care. The LGBTQ Community can and should be there to help.

Editor's Note: Language is constantly evolving within gender variant communities as different terms are explored, altered, and accepted or rejected. We are using "trans*" as (hopefully) being read as more inclusive. Our source is "You Know You're Trans* When ... "

The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author and do not represent any position, official or otherwise, held by Wayves Magazine.

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