Opinion Column

The Duel

Anxious conservatives police pronouns, patrol privies

By Garth Mullins, The Duel

Conservative Sen. Don Plett. (HO)

Conservative Sen. Don Plett. (HO)


This week's question: Should protecting transgender rights be included in the Canadian Human Rights Act?

Every November, trans people, friends and family gather to mourn community members who have been murdered and organize against the violence they face.

“Trans people are perhaps the most targeted hate crime victim group in Canada,” a 2014 study concluded.

It should be illegal to assault, fire, evict, or harass someone just because they’re trans. But conservatives are more worried about imagined slights against their own grammar than real world violence and discrimination.

If passed, Bill C-16 would add “gender identity and expression” to the Canadian Human Rights Act, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, religion, age, sex, sexual orientation, disability and more. Groups have been added several times since the Act was passed in 1977. Each time, conservatives objected.

Read Brent Stafford's column here.

Human rights lawyer Adrienne Smith provides legal advice to many in the trans community.

“People don’t realize they have rights,” Smith said. “This bill will have great education benefits.”

But opponents of trans rights obsess about bathrooms and pronouns.

Sen. Don Plett worries about his five-year-old granddaughter in a bathroom “with a biological male.”

But the Transgender Law Center study Peeing in Peace found multi-gender bathrooms are actually safer for everyone. At a multi-gender bathroom, Plett’s granddaughter wouldn’t have to go to the loo by herself when she’s out with gramps.

For Smith, such fear-mongering echoes the rhetoric about segregated American drinking fountains and lunch counters. The right was wrong then too.

This bill would also amend the Criminal Code to prohibit hate propaganda, promoting genocide and public incitement of hatred against trans folks, just as it does for other communities. Sentencing would recognize such crimes are frequently more brutal. Perpetrators often seek to terrorize an entire community, not just individual victims.

But conservatives are promoting groundless fears about "going to jail for using the wrong pronoun." It’s a faux free speech smokescreen, hiding old-fashioned bigotry.

C-16 is just the feds catching up. Most provinces and territories have had trans rights protections for years, where the focus is preventing discrimination and harassment in employment, housing, education, etc. Nobody’s doing time for pronouns. Hate propaganda sections in the Criminal Code exempt private conversations, religious opinions, public interest statements and many other types of speech.

These arguments aren’t new. In the 1970s, many women started using “Ms.” instead of “Miss” or “Mrs.” Conservatives freaked out then too – worrying they wouldn’t know if a woman was married. Somehow we survived.

Garth Mullins is a broadcaster, activist, writer, musician and trade unionist. He’s at www.garthmullins.com or @garthmullins.