News | The Daily speaks to activist Micah Grzywnowicz about the state of trans* rights

Recent legislation is progress, but not enough

On October, Ontario became the first province to allow trans* people to change the sex on their birth certificate with a letter from a physician or a psychologist.

These new rules stemmed from a ruling passed by the Ontario Human Rights Tribunal in April. The tribunal ruled that the previous practice of requiring people to undergo sexual reassignment surgery to change the legal sex on official documents was discriminatory.

While much of the trans* community praised the Tribunal’s ruling for its progress in furthering trans* rights and abolishing the need for invasive surgery, others were very vocal in claiming that the law didn’t go far enough.

The Daily spoke to Micah Grzywnowicz, a European human rights expert and trans* activist, about the impact of Ontario’s new law and the broader issue of widespread discrimination against the trans* community.

Grzywnowicz outlined several aspects of Ontario’s new law that still exclude a large portion of the trans* community. “[People] can still only choose F [female] or M [male], which obviously is problematic for people who don’t want to identify with either of them,” zie† said.

The law still presents a complicated process, with medical and financial demands. Those who wish to obtain a new birth certificate from ServiceOntario have to pay a $97 fee and provide confirmation from a doctor supporting their claim that they suffer from Gender Identity Disorder.

These often present insurmountable obstacles for many who wish to have the possibility of changing their legally documented sex.

“Limiting one human right, like legal recognition or access to healthcare, has consequences for many, many other [human rights],” Grzywnowicz said. “If [an] identity card doesn’t match with who [someone] is, it affects […] things that are basic for our well-being.”

Ontario’s law makes it the first province to abolish the requirement for proof of sexual reassignment surgery. Quebec still requires that trans* people wishing to change official documents undergo sexual reassignment surgery as well as a psychological assessment.

According to Gryzwnowicz, progress in the rest of the provinces likely hinges on whether other trans* people take their cases to court.

“By going to court, you expose yourself so much, and the process is usually really long,” zie said. “[…] On a personal level, it is not always nice or healthy to expose [yourself].”

To many in the trans* community fighting for these basic human rights, Ontario’s new law – while a welcome step forward – does not address the societal discrimination that trans* people face on a day-to-day basis.

“People need to understand that when a trans* person is, for instance, beaten up on the street, or thrown away from the [bathroom], it’s not about their biological sex, which is claimed. It’s because these people look different, and because others assume [they are not] a ‘real woman’ or ‘real man,’” Grzywnowicz told The Daily. “Our societal obsession with gender, and how it should be, how women should be, how men should be, is really hurtful. And I always ask – who actually fits [these] norms?”

Initiatives in the past few years on both the federal and provincial levels have sought to enshrine the rights of the trans* community in legal code in the hopes of lessening this pervasive discrimination.

In June, Ontario became the first major jurisdiction in North America to specifically protect the human rights of trans* people. The Ontario legislature passed Toby’s Act, the pet initiative of NDP MPP Cheri DiNovo, which amended the Ontario Human Rights Code to include protection for “gender identity” and “gender expression.”

A similar bill at the federal level, Bill C-279, passed into its second reading this year in the federal legislature. It seeks to add “gender identity” and “gender expression” to the groups included in the hate crimes section of Canada’s Criminal Code. The bill also aims to protect these individuals under the Canadian Human Rights Act.

Conservative MP Rob Anders, a prominent critic of Bill C-279, has dubbed it the “Bathroom Bill.” A petition posted on Anders’ website claims that the bill aims to “give transgendered men access to women’s public washroom facilities.”

Trans* advocate Jan Buterman told the CBC that this claim was “ludicrous.”

For Grzywnowicz, the so-called “Bathroom Bill” has different connotations. Zie told The Daily that bathrooms are “mission impossible, almost” for trans* people such as hirself.† An activity that is taken for granted by almost all people as a basic bodily right, zie explained, becomes a stressful struggle for many in the trans* community, and can even lead to blatant harassment.

To reduce this stress, the Toronto District School Board recently implemented a policy that recognizes the right of “transgender and non-conforming gender students and staff” to use whichever bathroom they feel “best conforms to their gender identity.”

In the end, Grzywnowicz said, “trans* rights are not any special rights. […] They are just basically demanding recognition of the rights that are [already] there.”

Zie, hir, and hirself are gender-neutral pronouns. 


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