Ontario passes trans rights bill

Act will amend Human Rights Code to include gender expression and identity

Cheri DiNovo’s battle is over.

In a somewhat anti-climactic morning session of the Ontario legislature, members of all three parties stood to support the long-awaited passage of Toby’s Act, a bill the NDP MPP has been championing for years.

The bill is also known under the more cumbersome title of Bill 33, an act to amend the Human Rights Code with respect to gender identity and gender expression. It looks to codify protections for trans people, mimicking protections that already exist for much of the queer community.

“The people who deserve recognition joined us in the gallery today,” said MPP Yasir Naqvi, the Liberal co-signer for the bill, as he stood in the legislature. “We’re getting the legal recognition today, but we need to do the educating.”

DiNovo, who had introduced this bill three times previously, applauded her colleagues across the aisle, as well as those sitting in the benches above. As DiNovo has done in her previous speeches on the bill, she spoke of the late Toby Dancer, the bill’s namesake.

DiNovo recounted how Dancer, much to her chagrin, would often find herself playing “Amazing Grace” at DiNovo’s church. “She’d much rather be playing jazz,” DiNovo said. But because the church dedicated a night especially for those living in poverty or suffering from mental illness, Dancer played “Amazing Grace” so the congregation could sing along.

Dancer died in 2004. DiNovo has dedicated her work on this issue to her.

The passage of the bill marks a changing in the tides for the trans movement in Canada. Similar bills are being considered in Manitoba and at the federal level. The House of Commons, too, seems poised to pass a similar bill after seven years of trying.

This movement is critical, DiNovo said, as trans people face the highest rates of suicide and poverty of any marginal group.

“It gives me hope,” Dinovo said, paraphrasing a letter she received from a young trans woman who had been forced into the sex trade.

The bill has enjoyed bipartisan support that all parties have recognized as extraordinary. While the final vote was not carried unanimously, it received two very vocal Progressive Conservative endorsers in Christine Elliott — who co-signed it — and Rod Jackson.

“This isn’t the end; this is probably just the beginning,” Jackson said.

Liberal MPP Glen Murray, grinning, said, “It’s not often I get a chance to be a part of making history.”

This victory for the trans community comes on the heels of the passage of Bill 13, the anti-bullying law that will work toward including gay-straight alliances in all Ontario schools.


Freelance journalist covering current affairs and politics for Xtra.

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