1. Introduction

People who are transgender, or who otherwise don’t conform to gender stereotypes, come from all walks of life. They are represented in every social class, occupation, race, culture, religion and sexual orientation, and live in and contribute to communities across Ontario and around the world.

Yet, “trans” people are one of the most disadvantaged groups in society. They routinely experience prejudice, discrimination, harassment, hatred and even violence. People who are in the process of “transitioning” or “coming out” are particularly vulnerable.[1] Many issues go to the core of human dignity. Courts and tribunals have recognized this as “substantial and disturbing.”[2]

Trans people face these forms of social marginalization because of deeply rooted myths and fears in society about people who do not conform to social “norms” about what it means to be female or male. The impact is significant on their daily lives, health and well-being.

In 2010, the Trans PULSE Project[3] conducted a detailed survey with 433 trans people across Ontario. Trans people reported barriers and discrimination in accessing employment and medical care.[4] While a higher percentage of trans people had post secondary education, their income levels did not reflect this. The majority were living below the poverty line.[5] They also reported lower levels of employment.[6] Two-thirds said they had avoided public spaces that everyone else takes for granted such as malls or clothing stores, restaurants, gyms and schools because of a fear of harassment, being “read” (perceived as trans), or “outed.” Washrooms were the most commonly avoided space.[7] Over their lifetime, 77% reported they have had suicidal thoughts and 43% had attempted suicide.[8]

At the same time, broader social and legal change is underway. Society is beginning to recognize the value and importance of respecting every person’s gender identity and expression. International human rights standards, domestic legislation and legal decisions have confirmed the legal obligation to uphold the right to be free from discrimination and harassment based on gender identity and gender expression.

Ontario’s Human Rights Code (the Code) is a provincial law that sets out legal rights and obligations to protect people from discrimination. In 2012, three parties of the Ontario Legislature co-sponsored Toby’s Act, the Bill that added “gender identity” and “gender expression” as prohibited grounds of discrimination under the Code.[9] The grounds make it clear that trans people and other gender non-conforming individuals are entitled to legal protections in the same way that people are protected from discrimination and harassment based on race, age, disability and all other prohibited grounds.[10]

[1] Also see section 13.2-Transitioning and Appendix B-Glossary of this Policy.

[2] XY v. Ontario (Government and Consumer Services), 2012 HRTO 726 at para. 15 (CanLII). In this case, the Tribunal recognized that transgender persons are a “historically disadvantaged group.” Brodeur v. Ontario (Health and Long-Term Care), 2013 HRTO 1229 at para. 41 (CanLII). In this case, the Tribunal stated that “disadvantage and prejudice against transgendered persons in Ontario remains substantial and disturbing.”

[3] Trans PULSE is a community-based research project that was created to respond to problems identified within Ontario trans communities regarding access to health and social services. Funding for the project was provided by the Wellesley Institute, the Ontario HIV Treatment Network (OHTN), and the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR). To learn more see: http://transpulseproject.ca/about-us/

[4] Jake Pyne et al., “Improving the Health of Trans Communities: Findings from the Trans PULSE Project” (Presentation to the Trans Health Advocacy Summit, August 24, 2012), online: Trans PULSE http://transpulseproject.ca/research/improving-the-health-of-trans-communities-findings-from-the-trans-pulse-project/.

[5] G. Bauer et al., Who are Trans People in Ontario? Trans PULSE e-Bulletin, 20 July, 2010, 1(1), online: Trans PULSE www.transpulseproject.ca.  

[6] G. Bauer et al., We’ve Got Work to Do: Workplace Discrimination and Employment Challenges for Trans People in Ontario, Trans PULSE e-Bulletin, 30 May, 2011,2(1), online: Trans PULSE www.transpulseproject.ca.

[7] A. Scheim, G. Bauer  & J. Pyne, Avoidance of Public Spaces by Trans Ontarians: The Impact of Transphobia on Daily Life, Trans PULSE e-Bulletin, 16 January, 2014. 4(1). online: Trans PULSE www.transpulseproject.ca.

[8] Pyne et al., supra note 4.

[9] See Bill 33, An Act to amend the Human Rights Code with respect to gender identity and gender expression 1st Sess, 40th Leg, Ontario (assented to 19 June, 2012), S.O. 2012 C.7, online: Legislative Assembly of Ontario www.ontla.on.ca/web/bills/bills_detail.do?locale=en&BillID=2574&isCurren....

[10] There are 17 protected grounds in the Code: race, colour, ancestry, creed, place of origin, ethnic origin, citizenship, sex (including pregnancy), sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression, age, marital status, family status, disability, receipt of public assistance (in housing) and record of offences (in employment).