Editorial: Discrimination takes flight

By Gauntlet Editorial Board

For the second time under the Harper administration, transgender people are facing serious discrimination. The “Passenger Protect” program — a confusing Canadian adaptation of the American “no-fly” list — prevents people from boarding an aircraft whose appearance does not match the gender indicated by the identification they present. That is, if your driver’s license or passport (or other government-issued id) states that you are female, but you don’t appear ‘female,’ then you can be blocked from flying. While to some it may sound innocuous for the government, acting through transportation regulation, to be concerned with the appearance of airplane passengers, the potential for discrimination, particularly regarding Canada’s transgender people, is quite serious.

The Harper government’s negative attitude towards transgender people was initially exposed in the fall of 2011. Bill C-389 was an attempt by Burnaby National Democratic Party Member of Parliament Bill Siksay to amend the Canadian Human Rights Act to protect the rights of transgender/transsexual citizens from discrimination based on “gender identity” or “gender expression.” The bill was heavily opposed in parliament by Stephen Harper’s Conservative party and several Liberal mps, and in the public sphere by the dullard Charles McVety and his Institute for Canadian Values. The bill’s critics failed to recognize the spectrum that is gender expression, seeing only the male-female gender polarization of times past. The bill was and still is desperately needed in Canada. As Albertatrans.org remarked regarding the necessity of the bill, “Without anti-discrimination protections, transgender and transsexual Canadians face economic marginalization, lack of access to services, and even violence simply for being trans.” But the dogmatic blindness of the bill’s critics have kept it from becoming law. As it presently stands, Bill C-389 needs to be read a second time in parliament, referred to a committee and signed into law before transgender/transsexual people are given adequate protection from discrimination.

The Identity Screening Regulations, which hold the potential to discriminate against transgender people, came into effect under Harper’s government without raising any eyebrows on July 27, 2011. Although regulations such as the isr are not legislation, they are implemented across Canada by the Ministry of Transportation, and ought to be the concern of all citizens.

While the case could be made that airlines, for reasons of ‘security’ or something equally banal, ought to have the capacity to deal with people that are disguised, the regulations of the isr offer no such solution. The troublesome section of the Identity Screening Regulations reads, “5.2 (1) An air carrier shall not transport a passenger if . . . (c) the passenger does not appear to be of the gender indicated on the identification he or she presents.” The language used in the isr is in no way to the benefit of airline security, rather it is a direct attack against transgender people.

The Harper government — in painful disavowal of their blatant discriminatory views — asserts that a transgender person simply needs to have sexual reassignment surgery, then get an official letter of sexual reassignment from the doctor, then have the sex designation on their official identification forms changed, allowing them to fly without worry. But the vast majority of transgender people are not headed for the operation table, and aren’t necessarily interested in expensive and invasive sexual reassignment surgery. Changing one’s sex is not equal to visiting your doctor to deal with the flu, even if the Harper government would like us to believe that it is so as to further denigrate transgender people.

While it is possible to sympathize with the paranoia regarding airline security, there is no conceivable benefit to blocking transgender or gender-ambiguous people from being able to fly simply because their appearance is that of the gender they recognize themselves as, and not what the Canadian government has decided their gender ought to look like. Under such absurd regulations, for which there is no legitimate rationale, transgender and the gender ambiguous people are being directly targeted by the strange brand of Harper homophobia.

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