On Wednesday, October 27, OutLaw, a club for queer students and their allies based in the Faculty of Law, and the Women of Colour Collective at McGill (WOCC) organized a panel discussion entitled “Lived Experiences of Trans Women of Colour and Law,” which focused on the difficulties trans women who immigrate to Quebec face.
“With Bill 35 and 103, 2015 has been a year of substantial progress in terms of trans rights in Quebec,” said VP External of OutLaw and event moderator Florence Paré (who authored “Enforcing the deadname,” published October 17), before introducing the panel’s speakers. “Trans citizens, adults and minors alike, are now able to change their legal name and gender marker without having undergone genital surgery.”
“Unfortunately, those rights have not been extended to non-citizens, who remain unable to change their names or gender marker with the Directeur de l’Etat Civil, despite being able to insert your birth certificate into the registry,” Paré added. “Trans women of colour, and in particular those who are migrants, are particularly vulnerable to discrimination, due to their lack of recognition by the state.”
Panel members included Betty Iglesias, who does outreach in the Montreal area, supporting groups who provide harm reduction materials and other resources for trans people, sex workers, and LGBTQ immigrants; and Dalia Tourki, an Arab trans migrant rights advocate who helped organize the 2016 Montreal Trans March.
Panelists were asked about the biggest challenges trans migrants and women in Quebec face: discussion centered around provincial legislation which dealt with legal documentation.
Tourki spoke about Article 71 of Quebec’s Civil Code: “It basically forbids trans people from changing their legal documents [e.g. driver’s license],” said Tourki. “If you’re a trans woman like me, you still have your deadname on the document. You cannot change it, so basically I still have a masculine name [on my documents], [one] that I was given at birth and did not choose.”
Tourki addressed the repercussions of such a law when she needs to go to many places that require photo identification, such as a post office.
“Just […] asking for any simple service [for me] creates a sense of malaise, an [extreme] sense of embarrassment,” added Tourki. “I’ve never had the level of anxiety that I’ve been having for these last few months. […] Every time I show my ID, I’m being outed.”
Iglesias concurred: “We need documents that allow us to have access to essential healthcare, to housing, [so] we don’t have to explain [our] gender, [our] identity,” she explained. ”[Otherwise, others] have this privilege, this power, over the decision to give us access or not.”
Both Iglesias and Tourki spoke about their experiences with what it means to not only be a trans woman, but also an immigrant.
“Those of you who are children of immigrants know how lonely it is, how it can be very solitary,” Tourki said. “I mean, we come from countries where our existence was threatened. For most of the trans migrants that I know, [immigrating] is basically escaping.”
Tourki went on to address the struggles that come with adapting to life in another country, and recalled her experience getting into a taxi in Tunisia (her home nation) to go to the airport, on her way to Canada.
“The taxi driver noticed that I was gender non-conforming,” recalled Tourki. “At the time, I [hadn’t] started my transition, and […] he told me ‘It’s better if you leave this country.’”
However, she later stressed that while she might have escaped from Tunisia, that didn’t mean her new home of Canada didn’t also discriminate against trans people, especially trans migrants.
“Discriminating against trans Canadians and trans migrants should not be acceptable in a country that pretends to be fighting for human rights, [with] safe havens for LGBT communities,” she clarified.
Iglesias added to that point by illustrating how trans migrants in Canada are not only discriminated against, but often targeted, especially by law enforcement.
“[I’ve heard stories of] police coming to massage parlors, and they were targeting sex workers who were immigrants […] They came looking for immigrants to deport them.”
In an email to The Daily, Romita Sur, Co-President of WOCC of McGill Law, wrote about how the event came to be, and why the WOCC felt the panel’s discussion was so important.
“We realized that [a] majority of our events focused on women of colour or Indigenous women, so we wanted to dedicate an entire event to trans women of colour,” she wrote.
“We often [hear] about trans women and the oppression they face in the legal system,” she continued, “but we wanted to take it a step further to learn about the difficulties that trans migrants face and what they [need] from the law itself.”