Transgender activists speak out - Say they are not protected under the provincial Human Rights Act

Published on May 18, 2013
James Moriarty
Flavio Nienow photo

By Flavio Nienow

Special to The Telegram

“Powerless is a word that a lot of people in this room can relate to,” said transgender activist James Moriarty, the keynote speaker Friday at the International Day Against Homophobia breakfast in St. John’s.

Under the Human Rights Act, people are protected based on certain grounds such as gender, political opinion, religion and race, but there’s no specific protection outlined for transgender people.

“Until that happens, we’re at a huge disadvantage,” said Moriarty.

Gerry Rogers, the NDP MHA for St. John’s Centre and a transgender issues activist, agreed, saying “there’s no good reason not to go forward with this.”

“Transgender people are among the most bullied people in our society,” she added.

Statistics from a survey of schools by  the Canadian organization Equality For Gays and Lesbians Everywhere (EGALE), show that 74 per cent of trans youth have been verbally harassed about their gender expression, and 37 per cent have been physically assaulted.

In Canada, Ontario, Manitoba, Nova Scotia and the Northwest Territories have included gender identity in their Human Rights Code.

“Newfoundland is lagging behind,” said Rogers. “It’s something that we have been pushing and lobbying for.”

Rogers said she presents a petition in the House of Assembly “at least once a week” asking to include the grounds of gender identity in the Human Rights Act.

In 2010, the Newfoundland and Labrador Human Rights Commission made a submission to the provincial government asking that  transgender be included as a specific prohibited ground in the Human Rights Act, said the commission’s executive director, Carey Majid.

“The government, for whatever reason, chose not to do it,” she said.

The Department of Justice says the Newfoundland and Labrador Human Rights Commission accepts complaints related to gender identity issues based on gender grounds, and that “currently, there is no gap in the province’s legislation regarding complaints related to gender identity and gender expression.”

EGALE recently began a project in  school districts in Newfoundland and Labrador and has found transgender youth in “every region of the province,” said EGALE’s executive director Helen Kennedy.

“Trans people are brothers, sisters, lawyers and even our politicians,” said Rogers. “They have the right to full protection under the law.”

Gender identity is not yet covered by the Canadian Human Rights Act. Bill 279, the gender-identity bill recently passed in the House of Commons, is currently being debated by the Senate, said Kennedy.