Celebrating the Past Year in Queer Legislation for LGBTQ Torontonians
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Celebrating the Past Year in Queer Legislation for LGBTQ Torontonians

Since June 2015, the government has stepped up for the community.

The rainbow flag flies over City Hall. Photo by Christopher Drost.

The rainbow flag flies over City Hall. Photo by Christopher Drost.

For decades, the LGBTQ community has been fighting for protections at all levels of government. Whether it’s for basic support in the Canadian Human Rights Act, or a legislative change that will make life safer and more comfortable for the community, elected officials play a huge role in ensuring that a vulnerable population that has historically been wronged enjoys equal rights to its cisgender and heterosexual counterparts.

Since June 2015, elected officials have done just that. While some of the legislation tabled remains in limbo or yet to become law, the past year has proven that the government is stepping up for the LGBTQ community—municipally, provincially, and federally.

Below, Torontoist outlines and celebrates the past year in queer legislation.

1 Bill C-16: Trans protections in the Canadian Human Rights Act

DATE: May 2016

It was just weeks ago that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s Liberal government prioritized protections for transgender Canadians. Bill C-16, which, if passed, will add gender expression and identity to the Canadian Human Rights Act as prohibited grounds against discrimination, was introduced last month. But getting the bill tabled and supported has been a long and bumpy ride.

Past efforts to protect our country’s transgender community under federal law has been met with resistance. In 2009, Bill C-389 was introduced in the House of Commons, and subsequently died in the Senate in 2011. A second bill, C-279, underwent the same treatment from 2013 to 2015.

Most recently, Bill C-204 was introduced as a private members’ bill by the NDP last year. That bill lingered and eventually died as Parliament was dissolved, much to the chagrin of LGBTQ activists.

Though Trudeau listed trans rights as a priority in his mandate letter to Justice Minister Jodi Wilson-Raybould, the process in passing Bill C-16 was slow, and many, including Torontoist, questioned the Liberal government’s commitment to the transgender community. But on May 17, 2016, the Liberals tabled C-16, on the International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia.

While six provinces (including Ontario) and one territory have provincial human rights laws protecting gender identity and expression, C-16 will offer national protections.

2 Bill 77: The move to ban conversion therapy

DATE: June 2015

Parkdale-High Park NDP MPP Cheri DiNovo has long been a guiding light when it comes to queer legislation in Ontario. As Queen’s Park’s only LGBTQ critic, DiNovo has led the way in progressive policy, tabling several private members’ bills to support and protect those in the community.

Last June, DiNovo’s greatest success came in the form of Bill 77, which ended the practice of LGBTQ conversion therapy. In particular, the bill sought to support trans youth under 18 who could be forced to suppress their identities by practitioners seeking to quell their efforts to transition. It also delisted practitioners who received OHIP funding to practice the therapy.

The bill was a smashing success: introduced in March, it received support from all parties, and was passed into law by June.

3 Bill 169: Motion for a Trans Day of Remembrance

DATE: February 2016

Another of DiNovo’s efforts to support the LGBTQ community was to recognize those who were transgender that died from anti-trans violence. In February, the MPP tabled Bill 169 to proclaim November 20 as Trans Day of Remembrance.

The bill takes into account the harsh realities of violence against LGBTQ Ontarians, particularly those who are transgender. One Ontario study of trans people found that one-fifth experienced physical or sexual violence because of their identity, and more than one-third experienced verbal harassment.

Bill 169 passed its first reading in February.

4 Ontario government expands sex-reassignment surgery referral program

DATE: March 2016

For years, transgender Ontarians were stuck in limbo awaiting a reference to undergo sex reassignment surgery. The Ontario government requires that trans people seeking the procedure show two references: one from a physician and one from a social worker. But for years, the only qualified institution to provide these references were at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health. As demand for references grew, so did the long waiting list at CAMH. (At one point, the list had grown to more than 1,200.)

Last November, Ontario Health Minister Eric Hoskins announced that the province would open up the process to hundreds of qualified physicians outside of CAMH in an effort to alleviate the long waits. The new rules were instated in March 2016, bringing more than one thousand trans Ontarians one step closer to the surgeries they required.

While Ontario has improved its stance on trans health care, there is still much to be desired. Currently, only one OHIP-covered surgeon for reassignment surgery is located in Canada, in Montreal—and those receiving the procedure must pay for their own travel to get there. Hoskins says he’s aware of the issue, and that the next step is to bring more qualified surgeons to the country, particularly to Ontario.

5 Bill 137: Equal parental rights for LGBTQ Ontarians

DATE: October 2015

Once again spearheaded by DiNovo, Bill 137 sought equal protections and rights for LGBTQ parents. Ontario remains one of few provinces in Canada in which lesbian mothers who do not give birth do not have legal rights over their children until they adopt. If a mother has a medical emergency during birth, her partner does not have legal rights over the child until she adopts the baby. That’s what happened to lawyers Kirsti and Jennifer Mathers McHenry during the birth of their daughter, Ruby. DiNovo named the bill after the pair’s children, declaring it Cy and Ruby’s Act.

The bill also sought to change the way trans parents are labelled on children’s birth certificates.

Tabled last October as an NDP private members’ bill, Cy and Ruby’s Act received support from all parties. But then the bill became stalled—and parents, irate at the delay, issued a Charter challenge against the Ontario government.

Since then, Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne has announced that her Liberal government will table a similar bill in September. Wynne hopes the legislation will be passed by the end of 2016.

6 Public school all-gender bathrooms

DATE: February 2016

While governments across the continent continue to battle over the implementation of all-gender bathrooms, Toronto has already made its progressive mark. In February, the Toronto District School Board announced that it would be rolling out gender-neutral washrooms in all schools to better accommodate transgender and non-binary students.

Before the announcement, the TDSB already had all-gender washrooms in 50 schools; the first school to roll out the practice did so in 2013.

Even the Toronto Catholic District School Board told Torontoist that it implements all-gender bathrooms in any schools where the need presents itself.

There’s still no set timeline for when the TDSB will roll out all of the bathrooms, though the board has a set of guidelines in doing so.

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