Fighting transphobia on campus

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by Harleen Kaur Dhillon

Naomi Dylan is afraid future laws may make them a target for discrimination because of their gender. “I think it’s a scary time. I think it’s a sad time,” Dylan, a general volunteer at Laurier’s Rainbow Centre, said.

Dylan’s fears stem from the recent controversy surrounding the Trump Administration. On Oct 22, a memo was leaked from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services that revealed plans to redefine gender to mean only the genitalia a person was born with.

This would deny trans* people (people who do not identify with the sex they were assigned at birth) their identities and their existence.

The question of gender is important. If it is redefined to mean only biological sex, trans* people would no longer be protected from discrimination through Title IX, which requires recognition of chosen gender identities.

“When something like this happens, it’s not only one or two steps back for trans* rights. It’s a leap back, and it makes lots of trans people worried for their futures,” Ava Allain, Advocacy Director for the Glow Centre for Sexual and Gender Diversity, said.

Athena Caesura, an American Physics Graduate Student at UW, indicated that the move is reminiscent of the prevalent transphobia of the early 20th century.

“You get a pit in your stomach whenever your government does something like that. […] There’s a bad historical precedence that gives you a pit in your stomach whenever something like this happens. I would say that there’s definitely a negative atmosphere surrounding the community right now,” Caesura said.

Allain believes the situation in the US for trans* people may serve as a warning sign to Canadians for what a future with the wrong people in power could look like.

“For Canadian trans people, it’s a sign of what could happen here if the wrong people get in power here. It’s the U.S. government broadcasting that they won’t treat us as people, and there are people out there in Canada who will hear that and will agree,” Allain said.

The Canadian trans* community is nervous about the new blatancy of American transphobia. Canadian trans* people may be unable to take their medications over the border, and would have even more difficulties getting healthcare south of the border than they already do.

“The government of the U.S. is stating publicly that A) They are not interested in protecting trans* people or treat us with respect. B) It’s ok to be a public figure in a governemental position and be openly transphobic,” Allain said.

Caesura said that Canadian trans* people are already cautious of their neighbours to the south, and the recent developments only serve to make travel more difficult.

“Many of us need to be able to transition medically to feel like we’re in our right bodies. The U.S. does not have government sponsored healthcare and it’s not easy to get healthcare down there for a Canadian. Even before the Trump administration’s middle finger to us, there was a certain amount of caution towards the U.S. or going to the U.S.,” she said.

The likelihood of the bill passing is difficult to tell, but many are optimistic that district courts will prevent it from passing. There are many protests against doing soernment’s proposals and there is a lot of hope for the midterms happening in early November, when the Democrats could potentially reclaim the majority of the Senate “It’s hard to tell how likely it is that the legal definition of sex would be officially changed […] Luckily there are a lot of people out there protesting and if the midterm elections aren’t in favour of the Republican Party, they may just not have enough power to make it happen,” Allain said.

Both Americans and Canadians have tentative hopes for the future.

“It’s definitely a big issue when the government issues a statement saying that your identity is not valid. But I’ve come to not really believe the Trump administration, mostly because Trump lies constantly. So I’m not grabbing my pitchfork and torches yet… the courts are still fairly in favour of blueness at the district level. I think we have a good chance at fighting pretty much anything that he [tries to throw at us],” Caesura said.

Caesura has little faith in the Trump administration and hopes their efforts to legalize discrimination continue to fail.

“[It’s] not like there’s no chance of something bad happening, […] There’ve been some close calls, but they’ve failed a lot so far. I have mild faith in their ability to fail repeatedly.” she said. “I feel as though this administration has […] at least proved to me its inadequacy at this point.”