Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Jan 31, 2012 - Reporting the Canada Transgender Air Ban - the Power of Blogs!

I find it ironic how a policy could go unreported for 7 months, until one particular person raises the issue on a blog. This blog gets read and blogged about and tweeted, and eventually the story multiplies until mainstream media and mainstream stakeholders gets a hold of the issue.

While I was aware of this new discriminatory policy before, I had not taken any steps to raise awareness of it, until the other day, when my friend Josie Harding blogged about it the other day.

For those of you who aren't already familiar, the Government of Canada quietly amended the Identity Screening Regulations of the Aeronautics Act, in July 2011. Specifically, they added the following:

Section 5.2(1)(c) "An air carrier shall not transport a passenger if the passenger does not appear to be of the gender indicated on the identification he or she presents."

This raises two major issues. One is that it appears Government is now attempting to classify gender, based on legal sex.  Two, this policy appears to unnecessarily discriminate against trans people, and more importantly, could make it illegal for airlines to allow trans people to travel on their airplanes.

Part of my story is to discuss the issue, and part of it is to discuss the way in which this story went viral!  

After reading Josie's blog, I decided to tweet a brief sound-byte in which I brought attention to the policy and the issues. I vlogged and blogged shortly there-after. Well, given my reputation, and my network of followers among the Canadian trans community, this issue was quickly picked up by certain trans activists in Canada who have global reputations. Within hours, blogs were written by the amazing Mercedes Allen and Christin Milloy.  Both of whom referenced my blog.  

Well, that really got the ball rolling! All of a sudden, I was fielding phone calls from mainstream media outlets from Toronto, Montreal, and Ottawa! Likewise, several other key players entered the game. Several trans advocacy organizations started releasing public statements, and even gay/lesbian organizations as well.  Now, international mainstream media is starting to report on the story. Watch for articles to appear in printed publications tomorrow, including the Toronto Star, La Presse,  Vancouver Sun and the Washington Post!

Interestingly enough, as this story gets recycled and passed along, it is the trans people in Toronto who seem to be getting most of the attention, and credit, for breaking the story!  Not that this is necessarily a bad thing, but I think there is something to be learned out of this for the trans community, or any community for that matter.  It is critically important that when mainstream media takes an interest in a story, that they are coming to people who can accurately and credibly discuss the story.

While Josie and I appear to be the first two generations if this issue, it appears that we are being generally overlooked and ignored by most media outlets. Could this be because we live in small provinces in towns that nobody has ever heard of? or could it be that we still haven't earned our stripes in terms of reputation as trans go-to people in international media.

Ultimately, when there is a trans story, we need media to come to trans people. Whether it is the ones in eastern Canada, or the ones in Toronto, is secondary. Just so long as they don't keep going to members of our sister community - the gays and lesbians. it really upset me to see the ignorant comments made by gay male drag performer Ru Paul, recently, when he was asked about trans issues.

Anyway, props to Josie for being the true catalyst for getting this story in the radar!

Furthermore, back to the issue at hand. 

One of the main concerns that critics of trans rights seem to have, is a lack of a clear cut definition for gender. Well, now, Canada has just put this word into a policy document!  As we all should know, sex and gender are not the same thing. Simply put, sex is between your legs, and gender is between your ears!  while a doctor or a government official may be able to classify ones sex, based on a physical examination of the genital area, nobody other than oneself can classify ones gender. So first of all, the wording of this policy needs to be amended from gender to sex.

Secondly, is legal sex really an appropriate method to classify who may or may not be a security threat to an airplane?  Also, is legal sex really an appropriate method of identity authentication?

As all of these trans advocates have pointed out, gender presentation often differs from legal sex of many members of the trans community. some of us have had surgery and some of us haven't. some of us need surgery while some of us don't. Some of us are passable and some of us are not.  None of these issues have anything to do with airport security.

I am seeing a disturbing trend out of the Harper Government since he won a majority last year. First of all, he voted against bill C-389, a Bill that would have provided explicit Human Rights Protection under the grounds of Gender Identity or Gender Expression. Then a lawyer representing his Government questioned the validity of same sex marriages that were performed in Canada for people who lived outside of Canada.  Now, we see a discriminatory policy sneaked into a Regulation. Hmmmm folks. I do not think this is a coincidence!

Anyway, the biggest question people are going to ask, is: have any trans people actually been rejected from flying under this policy. Well, none that i am aware of as of yet. However, trans people have often faced additional and unnecessary scrutiny at airports, including me!  This policy now validates the mythological concept that trans people, by the very nature of them simply being trans, are a threat to security.

As I have well documented, I faced a near two hour delay at Pearson Airport in Toronto last year because an Airport Security Agent, who worked for USA Customs, appeared to be transphobic. I was taken aside, asked to give finger prints and have my picture taken, I had my bags searched, and I was subjected to dozens of very explicit personal questions about my health, my body, my hormones, my medication, and my genitals.
If that's not bad enough, in 2008, while driving across the Canada/USA border, I faced similar situations.

The very basic definition of phobia is 'irrational fear'. Transphobia is irrational and unnecessary. It's bad enough to have to face discrimination in my daily life, but to have a Government exhibiting and promoting transphobia, trans discrimination and fear-mongering? That is a clear violation of global human rights principles.

Anyway, after all of this, I felt it was important that I do blogging justice to this story, and the story about the story.  As an advocate, I can only hope that this blog post will go as viral as those written by my colleagues in the big cities!


No comments: