Abigail Curlew: International Day for Tolerance

This article was authored by Pierre Elliott Trudeau Foundation 2019 Scholar Abigail Curlew


Political efforts threaten to undermine fundamental trans rights


Whenever I mention the many forms of oppression, stigmatization, and marginalization that many two-spirited, non-binary, and transgender folks face across North America and Europe, I’m often met with skepticism. I’m told that it’s 2019, and surely trans people couldn’t possibly have it that bad. It’s this disbelief that makes our struggles invisible, even while they are featured on front page newsfeeds across the globe.

Today is International Day for Tolerance, and I challenge you to consider the dangerous political trends that have captured the everyday lives of trans folks across the United States and Canada. Though these trends may be jarring and frightening, it’s important that we acknowledge the facts and face them down.

Last October, news broke with The New York Times that the Trump administration was considering narrowing the definition of gender to “a biological, immutable condition determined by genitalia at birth”. The HHS Civil Rights Office, under the influence of Trump-appointee Roger Severino, was seeking to erase trans people from federal legislation to actively exclude us from civil rights protections. This new shift in federal policy occurred alongside the infamous trans ban in the US military, potentially impacting the lives of between 2150 to 15000 transgender service members.

More recently, the Trump Administration’s Department of Justice has instructed Justices on the Supreme Court to set a new legal precedent that would allow for the active discrimination and segregation of transgender people in relation to employment. Following up on their earlier efforts to define transgender people out of legal existence, the DOJ has argued that civil rights only protects discrimination under “biological sex”.

There are great efforts at play to legally eradicate us from being recognized as persons under the law, and thus push many of us back into the closets or into hiding.

Canada isn’t immune to these emerging anti-trans political trends. Notably, the Ontario Progressive Conservatives passed a motion at their party convention that would direct the party to ban mentions of “gender identity” from public education. Their reasoning was that trans identity is a “liberal ideology” and a “social experiment” that are not appropriate for children. Furthermore, recent research is showing that Canadian trans folks face so much day-to-day harassment that many of us are afraid to leave our homes.

Recognition is the first step towards building a more tolerant society. We need to recognize the political machine currently working to undermine the basic human rights of trans folks. Many of us are fearful that our society is about to turn on us, but the wider cisgender public have largely not tuned in to our struggles.

As engaged scholars and leaders, we have access to countless pedagogical tools and philosophies to teach people empathy and tolerance. It is important that we use these tools to challenge this growing discontent around the existence of trans people. After recognition comes the hard work of fostering empathy with the explicit goal of undoing hatred, prejudice, and discrimination.

International Day for Tolerance provides us with an opportunity to spark conversations about how to care for transgender people in a society that is becoming increasingly hostile towards us. It is an opportunity to ignite the political spirits of those around you to step up to politicians and have them recognize that their discriminatory practices will not be welcome in this country.