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Delivering Community Power CUPW 2022-2023

The conservative ‘debate’ over trans rights is no debate at all

“To debate someone’s very existence, their right to live, is to dehumanize them”

Human RightsQueer

LGBTQ2 rights supporters gather in Montréal, September 20, 2023. Photo by Kalden Rangdrol Dhatsenpa.

The rapidity with which attacks against trans people have increased this year is a dark sign of what could come. Schools and law societies, the foundations upon which civil society forges future generations and defends against discrimination, have been attacked with unprecedented frequency for their support of trans communities. Drag shows have been repeatedly targeted by far-right protestors and extremists for their displays of diverse gender expressions, despite having not been an issue for decades. As a visible trans woman and human rights defender, I have had conservatives denounce me as a ‘groomer’ and a ‘pedophile,’ pejorative buzz words that have entered the mainstream conservative lexicon in recent years.

Earlier this month, at its convention in Québec City, the Conservative Party of Canada debated whether, if elected, it would criminalize access to gender-affirming care for trans youth. Delegates discussed protecting children’s mental and physical health—an ironic misnomer when the vast majority of existing studies, written over the course of decades, demonstrate that gender-affirming care improves the mental health and overall wellbeing of gender diverse children and adolescents. Flying in the face of years of scholarship, the Conservative’s ultimately voted in favour of these regressive policies which would limit access to transgender health care for minors.

These moves are eerily similar to past right-wing attempts to criminalize abortion and reproductive health care in Canada. They are an unscientific appeal to rage and a cynical gambit to score cheap political points with the far-right.

Yet, while keeping their heads in the sand, anti-trans actors have stormed ahead. This has come at a great human cost. Some groups have gone as far as to create parallel realities through media and advocacy outlets where their ideology can freely spread and help to form fearful fantasies about trans people. This ecosystem is made up of a coalition of domestic and international anti-trans groups including Gender Report (Canada), Genspect (Ireland), Alliance Defending Freedom (US), and LGB Alliance (UK). These organizations engage in their own version of Orwell’s Newspeak, transforming our very existence and humanity into an ideology that can be debated into oblivion.

This so-called ‘debate’ is anything but inconsequential or theoretical: real people are dying. Consider the California woman who was murdered for hanging a Pride flag in front of her clothing store, or the hate-motivated triple stabbing that took place in a gender studies class at the University of Waterloo only a few months ago.

Conservative governments across the country have chosen to capitalize off of this tsunami of rising anti-trans hate. New Brunswick and Saskatchewan have implemented anti-trans policies forcing students to make a horrendous choice: either invisibilize yourself at school, suffering through the dehumanization of being deadnamed and misgendered, or out yourself to your parents, even if that carries the risk of being kicked out onto the street.

Ontario and Manitoba intend to go ahead with similar policies. At this rate, it is clear that such measures are part of a broader wave of anti-trans policy and legislation sweeping North America. Matters are only getting worse, as bathroom bills, name change bans, and other forms of discrimination and prejudice get imported by foreign and local far-right actors.

The federal Conservative Party’s positioning against gender-affirming health care would massively curtail trans people’s ability to thrive, let alone survive, in our society. Indeed, it would make us second-class citizens.

Significant mental health challenges and suicidal ideation within the trans community can be attributed almost exclusively to hostile surroundings. The current political climate has caused many of us to be in worse shape, and the mere prospect of gender-affirming care being banned causes distress among trans people. If these policies became law trans people would be forced to adopt unsafe solutions, such as concocting homebrewed hormones—a solution already used by some in response to overly restrictive access to said health care, and in a manner analogous to back-alley abortions.

Those outside of the trans community may not immediately feel the impacts of this ‘debate’ or live in fear of the Conservative Party’s policy positions. However, if Conservatives get elected and follow through on their promises, civil liberties will be at risk. The ability of children to receive a thorough education will be challenged. Access to abortions could be restricted or curtailed altogether. Predatory laws could be imposed upon the most vulnerable among us.

This is where irrational fear and moral panic can lead when left uncontrolled. Fascism rose over the course of ten years in Germany before war broke out, and five in Italy before Mussolini took power. Look at how far the United States has fallen in the last seven years. We could very much be next.

You might think that our Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms will protect us. You may think that we are somehow ‘safe’ here in Canada. However, the notwithstanding clause could be used to sidestep these rights. A government determined to undermine the trans community can do so, and will follow through if unopposed. The very hormones we depend on to survive have been criminalized in nearly 20 US states. This could happen here, too.

At least 77 anti-trans protests took place across Canada on September 20. These were coordinated by a coalition of COVID-19 lockdown opponents, conservative Muslim groups, White Lives Matter affiliates, and neo-Nazi preachers. These formations might not have a direct impact on the Conservative’s electoral chances, but they are making trans people feel significantly less safe. In advance of the demonstrations, warnings were sent out within the community, encouraging people to stay home or to counter-protest for their own safety. This is beginning to resemble the environment that the Republican Party is aiming to impose on all Americans.

To debate someone’s very existence, their right to live, their right to dignity, is to dehumanize them. It is why the conservative ‘debate’ over trans policy and trans-specific health care is not a debate—it is a thinly veiled attempt to seize control of individual bodies, shaping them in a way that aligns with reactionary interests. The ‘trans rights debate’ is not only a battle for us, but for democracy at large and for the society we all live in. We must do everything we can to make sure that hate remains outside of our walls. Our futures are at stake.

Celeste Trianon is a transfeminine award-winning jurist, legal clinic operator, and human rights defender based in Montréal.

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