20 November 2013
Thank you for inviting me to be here and to be part of this Day of Remembrance. I was going to say "part of your day of remembrance," but of course it should be everyone's day of remembrance. The real point of the long struggle for recognition and rights for transgender people is of course that the "we—they" of trans peoples' lives melts away.
I want to acknowledge the tremendous courage of the trans community. You have struggled against great odds and often through great personal challenge and tragedy.
There is something about the human condition that for whatever reason drives some to have to put down and even harm others. Probably to make themselves feel powerful and better. My theory is that it is actually the bully's own weakness and fear that drive this kind of behaviour. My experience is that bullies are actually remarkably weak and fearful people, who work really hard at hiding it.
You stand up to them at great personal cost with great courage. I acknowledge that and express my admiration for what you have done and do to fight this injustice.
Early this year I was asked by the leadership of my party in the Senate to sponsor Bill C-279 - the transgender rights bill. You are all aware of what it is designed to do: recognize gender identity in the Charter of Human Rights and in the criminal code. It would give greater recognition and respect to trans people and their many challenges in our society, and it would enhance penalties for crimes against them.
The bill was sponsored in the House of Commons by Randall Garrison, an NDP MP, and he did a wonderful job of getting enough party support, including 18 Conservative votes, to get it through the House to the Senate. I was asked to sponsor it in the Senate because the NDP have no senators and I have an interest in equality issues. It failed to come to a vote in the Senate - the government would not permit it. But, post-prorogation, it is back at first reading and there is complete support on the Liberal side and enough on the Conservative side to pass the bill if we can get to a vote.
I have been in politics for a long time; in two chambers for a total of 20 years. One of the best things I ever did in all that time was to advocate for and vote for the gay marriage bill in the Senate in 2005. Bill C-279 is of equivalent importance to me when I think about my experiences in politics.
I say that because these kinds of rights bills are so significant to me and to so many because they aim directly at the center of what we aspire to be and pretty much see ourselves to be as Canadians. Our ethos is one of fairness, justice, acceptance and understanding. You see it in the development of multiculturalism; you see it in our justice system; you see it generally in how Canadians treat one another.
You also see it in what amounts to some of our own mythology. Because we are not yet fully inclusive and fair and just. And we cannot be at least until communities like the trans community never again need to worry about being who they are.
We have much work to do, much more courage to tap, much more determination to sustain.
There is no doubt that trans people will do all of that and that things will change for the better, not just for trans people; but when the trans community can live in acceptance and safety, then it will make Canada a better place for everyone. Thank you for your leadership and inspiration.