Transgender rights ‘must be seen’

B.C. Liberals Laurie Throness and Marvin Hunt disagree as Premier Christy Clark reverses position on Human Rights Code

The B.C. government has passed amendments to its Human Rights Code to specify protection for “gender identity and expression,” a reversal by the B.C. Liberals after years of saying transgendered people are already protected against discrimination.

Premier Christy Clark and Justice Minister Suzanne Anton staged a group photo with MLAs and transgender advocates before the legislation was introduced Monday. Vancouver-West End NDP MLA Spencer Chandra-Herbert, who has advocated the change for the past five years, said the government has finally relented.

“The minister has to admit that what we were saying all along was correct, that in order to have your rights protected, you need to know you have rights,” Chandra-Herbert said. “You need to see your rights in the Human Rights Code.”

Anton said the changes don’t provide additional protection against unfair treatment when seeking a job or an apartment, but meetings with transgendered people convinced her to add gender expression to the list of prohibited grounds for discrimination.

“They have been legally protected, but they have not felt protected,” Anton said. “So it’s extremely important for a community that is vulnerable that they know they’re protected, that they know government is behind them.”

Two Liberal MLAs criticized the change, but did not vote against it. Chilliwack-Hope MLA Laurie Throness said “gender identity and expression” has been legally recognized as part of “sexual orientation” in the code, along with race, colour, ancestry, place of origin, political belief, religion, marital or family status, sex, age and criminal conviction unrelated to employment.

“I would point out that this has not been done for any other group,” Throness said. “One might specify certain races or religions or ethnicities. I can think of many disabilities, say of developmental delay, or perhaps impairment of sight or hearing or some other impairment, who must experience discrimination as well.”

Throness said he does not accept that “gender is fluid,” but rather is “fixed” and a product of biology. He added that the change is “not about protection as much as it is about the programs that will flow from this special recognition.”

Surrey-Panorama MLA Marvin Hunt cited rulings that found transgendered people are protected against sex discrimination.

“Transgender people are clearly included in the B.C. Human Rights Code,” Hunt said. “Now, the Jews aren’t mentioned in the code, but they are also covered.”

NDP MLA Selina Robinson said Throness’ comments “sounded like he felt the government got bullied by the LGBTQ community.” The Vancouver Pride Society refused to allow Premier Christy Clark to walk in their parade last year unless she supported Chandra-Herbert’s amendment.