'Dehumanizing' anti-trans rhetoric and policies prevent transgender Canadians from living freely, safely

Advocates are warning against party leaders turning human rights into political issues as CSIS report shows danger to LGBTQ+ is well documented

Members of Canada's transgender community are speaking out against transphobic comments made this week by Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre, warning that such rhetoric can further impact the safety and health of already marginalized folks.

When asked this week if he would introduce legislation to stop transgender women from being allowed into certain spaces like female change rooms, Poilievre told reporters that “female spaces should be exclusively for females, not for biological males.”

His statement is the clearest he’s made yet on the issue of transgender rights, which have been under fire in parts of the country, such as Alberta, as well as in many American states.

Comments and policies are 'dehumanizing'

For Celeste Trianon, a Montreal-based jurist and activist who identifies as transfeminist, the language used by Poilievre, along with Smith’s policy proposals “are frightening and dehumanizing.”

“What Poilievre is suggesting is the dehumanization of trans people and trans women in particular because in their eyes, we’re subhuman,” she tells Yahoo Canada. “And these policies will prevent us from living in civil society.”

Trianon says that the dehumanizing language used by Poilievre — referring to trans woman as “biological males” — is rooted in the well-funded anti-trans lobby that’s working at a global level.

CSIS warns: Members of LGBTQ+ community are 'desirable targets' for extremists

Earlier this month, CSIS warned that "anti-gender movement" extremists could "inspire and encourage" violence against the 2SLGBTQI+ community, with a spokesperson telling CBC that "the anti-gender movement is almost certain to continue over the coming year."

A document drafted by the Integrated Terrorism Assessment Centre noted that it had been monitoring potential attacks or violent assaults at Pride parades, celebrations and clubs across Canada last summer.

"Trans and drag communities in Canada have been the target of several online threats and real-world intimidation tactics in recent months," the document reads.

"Anti-2SLGBTQl+ narratives remain a common theme in violent rhetoric espoused by white nationalists, neo-Nazis, the Freedom Movement, and networks such as Diagolon and QAnon."

The report added that people who take up religiously-motivated violent extremism in Canada continue "to view members of the 2SLGBTQl community as desirable targets."

In January, Alberta Premier Danielle Smith proposed policy changes that would prevent Albertans aged 17 and under to receive top or bottom surgeries. Additionally, minors 15 and under would not be permitted to use “puberty blockers and hormone therapies for the purpose of gender reassignment or affirmation.”

Anti-trans bills are being introduced throughout the U.S. at a sweeping pace. In 2024 alone, three anti-trans bills have passed so far, including one in Ohio that prevents doctors from providing gender-affirming care to trans youth and one in Utah that bars transgender people from using a bathroom that aligns with their gender identity.

People protest Alberta Premier Danielle Smith's proposed youth transgender policies as she appears at an event in Ottawa on Monday, Feb. 5, 2024. THE CANADIAN PRESS/ Patrick Doyle
People protest Alberta Premier Danielle Smith's proposed youth transgender policies as she appears at an event in Ottawa on Monday, Feb. 5, 2024. THE CANADIAN PRESS/ Patrick Doyle

Conservative-led provinces enact new policies

New Brunswick and Saskatchewan have recently changed policies concerning the use of pronouns and name changes for students under 16, in which teachers must first seek permission from students' parents. Trianon says these types of policy changes turn human rights into a political issue, which marginalizes the community further.

Fae Johnstone, executive director of the Society for Queer Momentum, agrees, adding that Poilievre's transphobic comments are a clear indicator on whether he’d be suitable as prime minister.

“Someone who targets and bullies a small and vulnerable minority group should never lead this country,” she said in an email statement.

According to the 2021 Census, one in 300 people aged 15 and older were transgender or non-binary. As of May 2021, 59,460 people in Canada aged 15 and older were transgender — the equivalent of 0.19 per cent of the population — and 41,355 who were non-binary — or 0.14 per cent of the population.

Someone who targets and bullies a small and vulnerable minority group should never lead this country.

'Trans people are first and foremost human beings'

Trianon says it’s easy for politicians to target and dehumanize the trans community “because our community is not exactly well understood by many.” But she wants people to know that trans people are humans who exist in every aspect of society.

“They might work as educators, they might work as cashiers, they might also be your doctors and lawyers,” she says. “They’re people who are everyone. That’s one thing people might not get. Trans people are first and foremost human beings. Once you remember that, the hard part’s done.

“The rest is about listening to trans people and why they might need certain things, like access to bathrooms that are for their gender identity. Why do they need access to safe hormone therapy ... It helps their well being. It helps them to not only survive but also thrive.”

Survey: Transgender Canadians face obstacles, workplace discrimination

According to the government’s 2SLGBTQI+ Action Plan Survey, 43 per cent of transgender women, 47 per cent of transgender men and 38 per cent of Two-Spirit people reported that they had experienced harassment based on sexual orientation or gender identity in the last five years. Thirty percent of trans women, 22 per cent of trans men and 19 per cent of Two-Spirit people say that they were denied employment due to their gender identity.

Canada reacts: Poilievre comments are a distraction — 'leave them alone'

On a Reddit thread about Poilievre's comments, many felt the Conservative leader was ignoring more pressing issues like access to housing and affordable groceries.

"I don't care about that," user realcanadianguy21 said in a comment that's been upvoted almost 2,000 times. "I need a place to live."

"How is this going to lower grocery bills?" user PolloConTeriyaki wondered.

"Distraction news," user arikscore wrote. "We have about 600 issues higher on the list besides people trying to pee where they're comfortable."

"This is a non-issue to 99% of voters," Yeggoose wrote "And the voters who would be offended by this likely weren’t voting CPC to begin with."

"Can it with the bullsh*t dog whistles," Tricky-Row-9699 wrote."Anyone who knows trans people knows that they’re normal people who deal with enough sh*t already. Leave them alone."