Day 6

The fight for transgender rights isn't done yet says activist S. Bear Bergman

This week, the Canadian government introduced a bill to give legal protections to transgender Canadians. Transgender activist S. Bear Bergman thinks that's great, but thinks the protections won't mean much if people aren't trained on how to implement them.
Transgender activist S. Bear Bergman says simply changing the law won't affect the day-to-day experience of people with non-binary gender identities. (Gerry Broome/Associated Press)
Listen7:50

When Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould introduced the government's transgender rights bill on Tuesday, she shared the podium with Charlie Lowthian Rickert, a 10-year-old transgender girl, who spoke in favour of the legislation.

"It will improve our future so that we can live a more accepting, a more joyful life," said Rickert. "It will protect us from, as the minister of justice said, hateful propaganda, assaults, rape — stuff like that."

"I feel much safer," Rickert added, to the applause of her audience. 

But writer and educator S.Bear Bergman, a transgender man and activist isn't very optimistic. 

Transgender activist, author and father, S. Bear Bergman (Zoë Gemelli)

"I really would love to be able to say that this bill will be the magic silver bullet that will protect her and everybody else like her like.  And while I really support and am delighted that this legislation will come to pass, I just don't think that that's true," he told host Brent Bambury. 

Bill C-16 would include the terms gender identity and gender expression in the Canadian Human Rights Act and Criminal Code. It would also update hate speech and hate crime laws to include gender identity and expression.  

But Bergman points out that it lacks any funding for education, training or changes to the public service, nor does it help transgender people in the two provinces and two territories where there is no funding for medical interventions or surgeries for people who are transgender.

"You can be trans all you want but if you want to have hormones, counseling, surgeries [or]whatever, you're out of your own pocket for that," he says. 

"So, on the one hand, I would like to believe that the sky is going to open up and a rainbow is going to shine down on everyone and the great light of inclusion is going to shine, but in practice I'm really worried that's not actually how that's going to go." 

The education gap

Bergman describes daily interactions in which transgender people are marginalized or stigmatized.

He says money is needed for education because the lack of understanding could be catastrophic. He describes a medical emergency he found himself in, which could have become dangerous.

"This year — this actual calendar year — I was in an ambulance in downtown Toronto because there was actually blood spurting out of the side of me, and I had to explain to a Toronto EMS worker that trans men exist. He'd only ever heard of trans women. And if I had been even just a little less well, a little less able to advocate for myself, who knows what would have happened?"

Bergman says the burden to educate should not fall on his community or on kids like Charlie Lowthian Rickert. 

"Are we supposed to expect that this 10-year-old is going to be able to go to school and when people tell her she's not allowed to go to the bathroom, or they push you down the stairs and yell things to her while she's on her way to school, we're supposed to tell her that it's her responsibility to educate and advocated for herself?"

Bergman acknowledges the proposed legislation is significant and would been useful to him as he was growing up.

"There would have been a culture in which people were prepared to talk to me about my gender."

Bergman says Bill C-16 is important too because it "makes it no longer possible for people to try to 'fix' kids and adolescents which is part of what happened to me and that is incredibly valuable to younger trans people."

But Bergman emphasizes that for transgender people trying to secure their place in society, hard work lies ahead. 

"It is a momentous piece of legislation and it may even usher in a new era. But do you know how long an era is?"