Mercedes Allen on trans rights: I have an agenda

Protection in housing, employment at heart of C-389

I have an agenda. I do. Don’t call it a “hidden” agenda, because I don’t bother to hide it. Whether it’s an “evil” agenda is up to the beholder. And when I call it “my” agenda, it’s because I know I can only speak for myself — although I’m sure that many others will share it.

On Dec 7, the Government of Canada will debate Bill C-389, a private member’s bill put forward by New Democrat MP Bill Siksay. This bill proposes to add gender identity and gender expression to the list of protected classes in the Criminal Code of Canada and the Canada Human Rights Act.

It would be wonderful to think that the knowledge that all people should be treated equally would be enough to make people do so, but unfortunately, many people in our society routinely single out people they feel should be excluded and treated as lesser beings — as seen when 79 nations voted specifically to exclude sexual orientation from a Nov 16 UN resolution that condemns executions of people motivated by prejudice. In the past few weeks, evangelical lobbyist Charles McVety and other opponents have attempted to portray trans people as sexual predators and pedophiles in order to assert that we should be excluded from rights legislation. Unfortunately, it becomes necessary for the government to send a signal that it is not acceptable to make decisions that would marginalize or exclude people on the basis of these characteristics.

I would like to be able to find and keep work based on my skills and work ethic.

I lived in Edmonton when I first transitioned and worked for a company for 19 years. We set a date at which they expected to have a relevant policy in place and I would start living full-time as female. When we’d reached the point in our timeline at which I was to transition, there was still no policy, so I was instructed to wait. Months passed with no transgender policy being written or even discussed. I offered resources and found people willing to help management to understand the issue and how to navigate it in the workplace, but this fell on deaf ears. After a year of this dual existence, I crashed emotionally.

Finally, I was offered a lower position and less pay, which, at the start of the Alberta economic boom, meant that I was earning less money as a 19-year employee than the inexperienced new recruits that I was training. I moved on from that job three years ago, and this company still does not have a policy on transgender people, because they only see a need to be congruent with Canada’s existing human rights legislation.


I would like to be able to remain in my home or apartment without being ejected because of who I am.

When I first transitioned, my neighbours in the apartment I lived in were largely supportive and as understanding as they could be, and continued to appreciate that I was a quiet, conscientious neighbour. However, the Calgary-based landlord did not feel the same, and I was given a special bonus rental increase that more than doubled my rent — an increase that no one else in the building received.

At the time, there was little clarity on whether I had a human rights case, and I was told I was better off accepting defeat and scrambling to find a new apartment. I have since found out that transsexuals have been read into legislation, so there actually are tentative protections. However, these have to be routinely justified in the court and are subject to the judge’s or commission’s acceptance or rejection, so the precedent is not entirely binding and won’t necessarily always be respected.

I would like to be able to go about my life freely, without having to fear being injured or even killed just because someone doesn’t like the fact that I’m trans.

Before my transition, the one outlet I had to express myself was artwork. One art piece I did was of a male torso trying to zip itself up while female arms tried to claw their way out from inside. This piece, and the obvious trans overtones, inspired three college-aged men to attack me, wielding wooden boards and a golf club. Because the trans overtones of my artwork were seen as the cause, the response from authorities was one of “he had it coming,” and no serious investigation ever took place.

I would like to be able to be certain that legal and medical authorities would always be willing to assist me and treat me with respect.

Unfortunately, when it comes to trans people, professionals can suddenly become very unprofessional. In the most extreme cases this can turn quite tragic, such as with Tyra Hunter (who bled to death in Washington, DC, when attending EMTs discovered her trans status and stopped assistance) or Robert Eads (who died of uterine and cervical cancer because he could not find a doctor willing to treat him).

While I haven’t experienced that level of hardship, I have had some barriers with regard to medical assistance. For example, I have not been able to find a gynecologist willing to see me since starting my search in February.

If I am murdered, I’d like to know that the perpetrators would not be able to use my trans status as barter, to reduce the consequences to a charge of manslaughter or mischief.

Fortunately, I do not have direct experience of this. But I’ve followed trans issues internationally and regularly see news reports of transgender people who are attacked — and these incidents are often treated as though the victim was “asking for it.” Every year, the trans community commemorates the Transgender Day of Remembrance, remembering victims of violence. Far too often, the courts treat trans deaths as inconsequential.

In one of the more extreme cases in recent years in the UK, Shanniel Hyatt was the only person seen on security footage entering and leaving the apartment of Kellie Telesford, was found in possession of stolen items belonging to her (including her cellphone), and yet was completely acquitted because he successfully argued that since she was a transsexual, it would have made sense that Kellie killed herself by auto-erotic asphyxiation out of grief after the robbery of her apartment.

I don’t seek to control what people believe about me or even say about me other than that they should not be able to act on those beliefs in a way that will create unnecessary hardships and barriers to living my life.

Opponents imply that granting equality to me would infringe on their freedom to disagree with me. That’s not my aim, nor what Bill C-389 is designed to do. Opponents are free to disagree — I simply don’t want their views to make my place of work an unbearably uncomfortable place to be, have their objection be expressed in a way that costs me my livelihood or home, or have their distaste incite harm.

I’m concerned only about the marginalization from people who act on those beliefs, and not the beliefs themselves. I’ll even repeat some of those beliefs for you:

“The Bill [C-389] proposes to encase a homosexual disorder into Canadian law as a “human right,” forcing all Canadians to pay further homage to the homosexual lifestyle…. Please contact your MP to protest this latest attempt to further corrupt Canada’s moral culture.”
— Catholic Insight, Dec 3

“If you legislate this ill-defined and unsubstantiated definition of “gender expression” as Siksay, you will have just opened the door to every uncommon, unnatural and dangerous sexual expression that can be imagined.”
— Brian Rushfeldt, Canada Family Action Coalition, June 8

The bill “not only flies in the face of common sense, but is also potentially dangerous by creating the legitimized access that sexual predators often seek,” by opening the door to men using women’s bathrooms. “Imagine a young girl — your daughter or granddaughter — goes into a washroom and finds a man there. How is the young girl to determine whether or not the man in the bathroom is a ‘peeping tom,’ a rapist or a pedophile?”

— Jim Hughes, Campaign Life Coalition, Nov 5

“Instead of recognizing natural reality and truth, they embrace perversion. When young people express confusion about their sexuality, these adolescent adults want to affirm them in the most perverse expressions of this confusion instead of guiding them into clarity and truth.

“Maybe some of these adults are predatory beasts who want to groom and desensitize youth and children to be their victims. Perhaps they are simply fools. Yet another example of normalizing, protecting and affirming something destructive and repugnant.”
— Timothy Bloedow, christiangovernance / No Apologies

“This is being in favour of a mental illness, and playing into it. It’s not good for individuals, let alone society. It’s extremely dangerous for children to be taught that transgendered is equal to heterosexual and normal gender.”

— Gwen Landolt, REAL Women of Canada

“Gender confusion is a known phenomenon in the lives of some young people. It is a mental problem, temporary for most of those afflicted and, as the American College of Pediatricians noted in a report this spring, ought not to be reinforced as, with time and sensible advice, it will usually be overcome.”
— Catholic Insight, Nov 16

Both Catholic Insight and Gwen Landolt have made reference to the American College of Pediatricians and their document “Facts About Youth.” In fact, despite its name, the ACP is a non-authoritative body that screens its membership according to specific views on abortion and homosexuality and is not representative of pediatricians in general or the medical establishment overall. It was founded by therapists like Joseph Nicolosi and George Rekers, who push ex-gay reparative therapies denounced as harmful by the American Psychiatric Association and American Medical Association. The American Academy of Pediatricians is the accepted authority in the field in the US and has emphatically refuted the claims made in the “Facts About Youth” publication.

Words are not the issue.

I’m not afraid of these beliefs, although it’s not exactly heartwarming to hear those things said about you and people like you. But people are free to believe and say those things. I only ask that those attitudes not be seen as justification for denying me work, access to services, housing or other forms of participation in society. The vehemence of those words, though, underscores that there are people out there who would not think twice about doing exactly that.

But I’m confident that if Canadian society will accept me as a peer, then as people get to know real people like me, those attitudes will be revealed as the antiquated myths they are.

There’s nothing particularly special about this agenda, I suppose. It’s not much different from what everybody wants, and what most Canadians enjoy without question. The only problem is that I’m part of a relatively small contingent, and against opposition that is numerous enough that it doesn’t have to rely on rational or factual information to have sway. If change is to come to pass, it needs a signal from the Government of Canada that trans people should not be excluded from the workplace, public services, housing and society in general.


Mercedes Allen is a graphic designer, writer and bisexual transsexual living in Alberta. She oversees the website and is a founding member of the Trans Equality Society of Alberta.

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