Transgender rights advocates urge governments to move beyond supportive words

By Cindy Tran

As Transgender Awareness week draws to a close, some advocates say they are filled with a mixture of hope and fatigue after seeing politicians making social media statements with little action to back them. 

“A company, or politicians, will post something about trans awareness and they’ll have a picture of themselves with a pride flag or a trans flag, and then they’ll go back to their priorities that don’t include us,” said Fae Johnstone, an advocate for LGBTQ+ rights and gender justice.

As a transgender woman, Johnstone has been vocal on social media about the need for gender-affirming health care, better employment support and overall action to back trans rights legislation. 

“We’ve done a really good job on the legislative side of gay rights and trans rights in Canada … but across the board, lived experiences haven’t changed in the same way,” she said. 

Johnstone said she knows many people who are unable to get full-time work, which reflects ongoing issues with transphobia. 

“It can be a hiring manager who doesn’t want to deal with a trans person’s pronouns that are different than they expected,” said Johnstone. “It can be a hiring manager who doesn’t want to have to manage other customers maybe being strange or discriminatory in the workplace towards a trans person.”

In the Ontario legislature this week, New Democrat member of provincial parliament Kristyn Wong-Tam reintroduced a private member’s bill calling on the health minister to create an advisory committee on gender-affirming care. 

But a request for unanimous support for the bill to speed its passage did not get the support of the entire legislature. 

“I just think that it was unfair for trans and gender diverse people to be once again asked to hang on and wait,” said Wong-Tam. 

The bill is still before the legislature for debate. If it passes, it gives the health minister 60 days to appoint members to an advisory committee that will provide recommendations about what needs to change in the health-care system. It would also require a report to the legislature and a response from the minister.

A similar piece of legislation introduced more than a year ago by former member Suze Morrison failed to pass.

“I find it very troubling and small-minded on (the government’s) part, that they would not even advance something as simple as creating an advisory committee,” said Wong-Tam. 

“It’s regrettable that people have to fight for what I believe is a basic right that’s afforded to every other Canadian, but somehow we have to fight. But it’s a just fight. And it’s a fight that’s worth winning.” 

Jones and Premier Doug Ford did not respond to requests for comment on Friday. 

That the bill did not get unanimous support is not a surprise to Lux, a tranfemme advocate and executive director of Ten Oaks Project, a non-profit that runs camps for LGBTQ children.

“I’m frustrated and angry, but I don’t feel shocked anymore when folks outside this community aren’t there to support us,” said Lux, who goes by one name and the pronouns they/them. 

“It’s a sad way to think as a trans person.” 

Ten Oaks Project works with children, youth and families, and Lux said they have encountered situations where parents are unsupportive of their child’s sexuality or gender identity. They are also consistently bombarded with messages about the lack of support. 

“We talk about transgender awareness but I think folks are more than aware of us and the rights that we currently don’t have,” said Lux. 

Ahead of Transgender Remembrance Day on Sunday, advocates said they want lawmakers and Canadians to move beyond performative allyship and back their words with action. 

“The actions are really about holding and creating space, it’s about asking questions … do that learning piece, not in a performative ‘I’ve reposted some things on social media,’ but really digging into the learning and unlearning,” said Lux.