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4. Bias and prejudice

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Trans people and other gender non-conforming individuals are often judged by their physical appearance for not fitting and conforming to stereotypical norms about what it means to be a “man” or “woman.” They experience stigmatization, prejudice, bias and fear on a daily basis. While some may see trans people as inferior, others may lack awareness and understanding about what it means to be trans.

“The notion that there are two and only two genders is one of the most basic ideas in our binary Western way of thinking. Transgender people challenge our very understanding of the world. And we make them pay the cost of our confusion by their suffering.”[12]

Bias and prejudice, or simply ignorance, can lead to isolation, vulnerability, disadvantage and discrimination at school, at work, in stores and other services, or even where people live. Trans people living in smaller towns or rural communities may even be more isolated.

4.1 Stereotyping

Many situations of discrimination happen because of negative attitudes, biases and stereotypes about people who are trans or gender non-conforming. Stereotyping is when assumptions are made about individuals based on assumptions about qualities and characteristics of the group they belong to.[13] When people stereotype others, they do not see the real person. Stereotypes are often unfounded generalizations that come from misconceptions and incomplete or false information about people. Anyone can stereotype and not even realize it, even those who are well meaning.

There are widespread stereotypes about trans people in society that often go unquestioned. These include wrong ideas that trans people are “abnormal” or “unnatural,” that they are “frauds,” deceptive and or misrepresent themselves. They may be seen as more likely to take part in criminal activity, be pedophiles, or have mental health problems. Some believe trans women to be a threat to other women.[14]

Anyone who engages in illegal activity including threatening or harassing behavior or assault should be dealt with accordingly under the law. This should not detract in any way from the rights of trans people.

False and harmful stereotypes are rooted in fear and uninformed attitudes and can lead to discrimination against trans people because of their gender identity or expression.

4.2 Transphobia

”Transphobia” is the aversion to, fear or hatred of trans people and communities. Like other prejudices, it is based on stereotypes that are used to justify discrimination, harassment and violence toward trans people.

Many trans Ontarians experience transphobia according to the Ontario-based Trans PULSE survey:

  • 98% of trans Ontarians reported at least one experience of transphobia
  • Nearly 75% of trans people have been made fun of for being trans
  • Over 25% have experienced physical violence because they were trans
  • Nearly 25% reported being harassed by police
  • Trans women experience transphobia more often than trans men.[15]

4.3 Cisnormativity

“Cisnormativity” (“cis” meaning “the same as”) refers to the commonplace assumption that all people are “cisgender” (not trans). In other words, their gender identity is in line with or “matches” the sex they were assigned at birth, and everyone accepts this as “the norm.”

The term is used to describe stereotypes, negative attitudes and prejudice towards trans people that are more widespread or systemic in society and its institutions. This form of prejudice may even be unintentional and unrecognized by the person or organization responsible, making it all the more entrenched and difficult to address.

“Cisnormative assumptions are so prevalent that they are difficult at first to even recognize… Cisnormativity disallows the possibility of trans existence or trans visibility. As such, the existence of an actual trans person within systems such as healthcare is too often unanticipated and produces a social emergency of sorts because both staff and systems are unprepared for this reality.”[16]

Society’s bias that there is only one right, normal or moral expression of gender underpins this form of prejudice and the discrimination that can result from it. Also see section 7.6 of this policy: Systemic discrimination.

[12] Barbara Findlay, as cited in John Fisher & Kristie McComb, Outlaws & In-laws: Your Guide to LGBT Rights, Same-sex Relationships and Canadian Law (Ottawa: Egale Canada Human Rights Trust, 2003), at 46.

[13] The Supreme Court of Canada has recently said that “Stereotyping, like prejudice, is a disadvantaging attitude, but one that attributes characteristics to members of a group regardless of their actual capacities.” Quebec (Attorney General) v. A, [2013] 1 S.C.R. 61 at para. 326.

[14] For more information see the OHRC’s 1999 Discussion paper: Towards a Policy on Gender Identity, online: OHRC

[15] R. Longman et al., Experiences of Transphobia among Trans Ontarians. Trans PULSE e-Bulletin, 7 March, 2013. 3 (2), online: Trans PULSE

[16] Greta Bauer et al., “I Don’t Think This Is Theoretical; This Is Our Lives’’: How Erasure Impacts HealthCare for Transgender People” (2009) 20(5) Journal of the Association of Nurses in AIDS Care, 348 at 356, online: Trans PULSE


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