Gender bill passage historic event for Alberta, transgender woman says

It’s a rare opportunity to be part of a historic moment that can define an entire community, if not an entire province.

Human Rights Act amendment prohibits discrimination based on gender identity and expression

Social advocate Marni Panas joins Justice Minister Kathleen Ganley (centre), MLAs and fellow activists when proposed changes to the Alberta Human Rights Act were announced on Nov. 21. (Provided)

It's a rare opportunity to be part of a historic moment that can define an entire community, if not an entire province.

I experienced one of these moments when I and other members and allies of Alberta's transgender and gender diverse community stood alongside Minister of Justice Kathleen Ganley Nov.19 at the legislature.

She introduced amendments to the Alberta Human Rights Act that will add gender identity and expression as prohibited grounds for discrimination.

On Monday night, the historic Bill 7 passed third and final reading, supported by all parties.

Why is this necessary?

Albertans who identify as transgender and gender diverse are often marginalized and experience discrimination at extremely high rates.

This population is more likely to be unemployed, underemployed, lose their jobs and be denied basic services simply because of who they are.  

We are more likely to experience difficulty accessing health care and other community services.

We are more likely to be victims of bullying, harassment and assault throughout society including our homes, schools and workplace.  

Isolation and depression

As a result of discrimination, we are also more likely to experience isolation and depression, which contributes to attempted suicide rates approaching 50 per cent.

Marni Panas is an Edmonton health and community engagement professional, social advocate, transgender woman, parent & spouse (Provided)
We are more likely to experience mental, emotional and physical abuse.

While case law exists to support transgender and gender diverse people in their discrimination claims, adding explicit protection under the Human Rights Act sends a clear message that we, as a society, value equality and providing a safe and welcoming community for ALL people.

Why include gender expression?

Gender identity is the person's internal individual experience of gender, which may or may not match the sex that was assigned to them at birth.

Gender expression refers to how one expresses their gender externally through dress, use of pronouns, segregated facilities, social behavior, mannerisms, etc.

These amendments protect all people's expression of their gender whether they are transgender or not.

It is estimated that transgender and gender diverse people make up less than one per cent of Alberta's population.

Population very much at risk

While these changes directly affect a relatively small portion of the population — a population very much at risk — it sends a broader message that everyone should be treated with respect and dignity and enjoy the same opportunities as others in this province do.

When one segment of the population feels safer and more welcome in their communities, an entire community feels more welcome. This affects everyone.

How does this affect me?

Everyone benefits when we create an environment where ALL individuals feel safe, welcomed and valued to bring their whole self to their roles as a parent, student, friend, colleague, teammate, sibling.

That's regardless of gender identity, gender expression, race, culture, profession, sexual orientation, age, physical and mental abilities, family makeup, etc. — whatever it is that makes us who we are.

Then the individual is happier and more productive in all areas of their life. Their relationships become stronger. The people around them become more positive sending ripples across an entire community. This contributes to the improvement of the overall happiness and health of society.  

The amendments to the Human Rights Act are a reminder that we are part of a community and an entire province, which values equality and inclusivity for ALL people.

Marni Panas is an Edmonton health and community engagement professional, social advocate, transgender woman, parent and spouse.

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