‘Transgender’ Goes Mainstream: 3 Areas of Progress
A new civil rights movement is underway. Last year Time reported that “Transgender people – those who identify with a gender other than the sex they were assigned at birth – are emerging from the margins to fight for an equal place in society.”
Trans activists and their supporters are coming out of the shadows to demand equality in areas of life such as “schools, hospitals, workplaces, prisons, and the military”.
A strong, proud spokesperson for this cause is Laverne Cox. Many North Americans link her name to the hit Netflix series Orange is the New Black. What they might not know is that the gorgeous lead Laverne Fox is a transgender woman.
On May 29, 2014 Ms. Cox talked to an audience of about 1100 people at the Nourse Theatre in San Francisco as if they were family. She told them “More of us are living visibly and pursuing our dreams visibly, so people can say, ‘Oh yeah, I know someone who is trans’. When people have points of reference that are humanizing, that demystifies difference.”
In North America statutes are in place to prevent gender discrimination with the aim that all people are treated as equals. Looking back to when new sections of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms began to reflect our changing society (or did we begin to change only after the Charter did? A chicken and egg conundrum), Section 15 became effective on August 17th, 1985.
Designed to give us the right to equality, it’s still but a framework. We applaud the improvements to the lives of staggering numbers of same sex couples that have been possible over recent decades because this framework is in place. But there’s room for more legislation to allow for more widespread equality – to include transgender people – in our society.
The U.S. is lagging behind us, but the new Obama Act at least gives transgender people access to medical services that they didn’t formerly have, “including routine tests, hormone therapy, mental health and substance abuse services”.
Legislation is yet to be written that allows American citizens to have health insurance coverage for gender reassignment surgery. They now have the framework to begin that conversation, however.
This does not guarantee that individual workers in any given medical facility will not discriminate against transgender patients. It does, however, give those patients legal recourse in the event that they are subject to discrimination while trying to access medical attention.
In B.C. the medical community has recently made a radical improvement. The Canadian Medical Association (CMA) has responded favourably to the international World Professional Association for Transgender Health (WPATH), whose mission is to “promote evidence-based care, education, research, advocacy, public policy and respect in transexual and transgender health”.
The very definition of transgender people has fundamentally changed. Rather than being classified as a psychiatric disorder, the term ‘Gender Dysphoria’, which refers to the distress felt by someone who identifies with a gender different from that which he or she was assigned at birth. This change in definition respectfully acknowledges the transgender person’s urgency to be identified by society in a way that is congruous with how he or she self-identifies.
At the CMA General Council in August 2014 four motions for new transgender-related policies were passed:
(A.1.a.1) Amend its Code of Ethics so discriminatory language relating to medical services is replaced with issues of gender identity and expression.
(A.1.a.2) Support the position that gender self-identity is a basic right of all adolescents and adults.
(A.1.a.3) Call for high standards in the care of transgender patients.
(A.1.a.4) “Call for the integration of sex and gender diversity education into medical school curricula and programs.”
We all know Rome is but one of many places that took a long long time to build. But look how far and wide its influence spread. In our democratic society change starts with policy. Once the framework is in place, the rest happens on the front lines. It takes time because people are hopelessly resistant to change.
The Catherine White Holman Wellness Centre on Commercial Drive in Vancouver offers services through the Reach Clinic to transgender and gender diverse people. It’s run in the tradition of the late Catherine White Holman, who was committed to ensuring marginalized people got access to health services. The volunteers operating this centre recognize, as Catherine did, that marginalized people often have challenges with personal finances. To address this need, services (including hormone shots) are delivered free or at very low cost by a team of professionals, many of whom are transgender themselves.
There will always be people in society who are hateful and fearful of change. On the bright side, there will always be those who are compassionate and open to change.
In light of last week’s media frenzy around Caitlin Jenner, one wonders if people truly are accepting this new order. How much of what appears to be societal acceptance is false perception created by that media frenzy?
To get a better understanding, I read a few blogs in search of first-hand accounts of the transgender experience.
Rachel TX, a reader of the National Centre for Gender Equality blog, replied three months ago to a post with her positive experiences in the healthcare system in Texas. She was admitted to hospital as a transgendered person and treated respectfully. She conveyed three main points, as follows.
-On the intake form after writing her legal male name she wrote her preferred female name. She was treated respectfully and only addressed by her preferred name Rachel.
-All of the doctors treated her respectfully, including her urologist who she feels gives her the respect that any female patient would get.
-While Texas is a state where 20 bills of anti-LGBTQ legislation are currently filed, “there ARE good physicians and healthcare facilities out there.”
There is reason to believe that people in the LGBTQ community wanting a military lifestyle will soon find a more welcoming environment than they’ve found in the past. In the U.S. there is one person to thank for two significant changes that took effect in 2013.
Former Secretary of Defence Leon Panetta had only two weeks left in office when he made the groundbreaking move to open up the American Armed Forces combat training to women.
As if that wasn’t enough change, he made another move that brings equity to some same-sex couples. On April 14, 2014 “the Pentagon announced that benefits for same-sex spouses would be available to those who can show a valid marriage license”. The nuptials, then, have to have taken place in a state that legally weds same-sex couples.
Meanwhile, the Canadian Armed Forces have allowed women in combat roles since a 1989 Canadian Human Rights Tribunal ruling won their right to do so.
Then, the Armed Forces were found in violation of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. They were ordered by a Supreme Court on October 27, 1992 to stop. The court ruled that regardless of sexual orientation, Canadians would not be restricted from serving in the military.
It has worked. Same-sex couples have since gotten married in military chapels, qualify for the same benefits as their straight counterparts, and even march in Pride parades.
Whether you are male, female, straight, gay, lesbian, bi, or transgender, the Canadian Armed Forces wants you in uniform and will even put you on the front lines. They will reportedly even cover the cost of gender reassignment. Lastly, “since December 2010 transgender soldiers can change their name and uniform without facing scrutiny”.
Arts & Entertainment
The media frenzy over Caitlyn Jenner continues, as she currently revs up for her eight- part docu-series called ‘I am Cait’. Meanwhile, she’s lending her voice to community services like a centre in LA “which helps transgender women and men — who experience unemployment at twice the rate of the national population — develop professional skills and find employment”.
Caitlyn gave a motivational speech to the youth there. She later participated in a roundtable. She genuinely cares about the community and lends her star-power to help level the playing field for other transgender people.
Lastly, while TV broadcasts and other media provide evidence of the widespread popularity of another transgender person, actor Laverne Cox, we hear whispers of an entertaining new Vancouver TV series. The Switch – Co- created, acted and produced by Vancouver’s Amy Fox – features real-life issues in the lives of its transgender cast. That’s all we can say for now. Stay tuned – we’ll have more on that in a few weeks.
The quest for equality has been going on for decades, but as it specifically relates to transgender people that quest has only just begun. Although there is clearly a long way to go, changes are taking effect. In seeing development in healthcare, the military, and of course arts and entertainment we have good reason to be optimistic that society will figure it all out and equality will rein supreme for transgender people everywhere.