Students’ Work with NAWL: Trans. What?

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There have been a number of important test cases recently decided in Canada at the tribunal level concerning transgender human rights, including Ferris v. Office and Technical Employees Union, Local 15, [1999] B.C.H.R.T.D. No. 55; Mamela v. Vancouver Lesbian Connection, [1999] B.C.H.R.T.D. No. 51 (B.C.H.R.T.); Sheridan v. Sanctuary Investments Ltd.[1999] B.C.H.R.T.D. No. 43 (B.C.H.R.T.) These decisions have affirmed the rights of Male-To-Female (MTF) transsexuals to use women’s washrooms, to continue to work while transitioning, and to participate in lesbian centres.

The inclusion of transgendered women in women’s facilities and organizations strikes at the heart of the feminist movement and has awoken numerous debates within the feminist community. The most recent case, between K. Nixon and the Vancouver Rape Relief Society, is pushing feminists and those working in women’s only spaces, such as sexual assault centres, to consider opening the definition of woman to include women who self identify as women.

At NAWL’s general meeting in Calgary in May, 2000, the Association adopted the following resolution:

“BE IT RESOLVED THAT NAWL study recommendations regarding human rights protections for transgendered persons with attention to NAWL’s commitment to substantive equality rights of women.”

Shortly after the conference, Bonnie Diamond and Andrée Côté prepared a funding application to the NAWL Trust Fund in order to get funding for background research on transgenderism and the law. I was hired to compile information, literature, relevant case law, legislative reform, and other legal developments in Canada, the United States and the United Kingdom on the issue.

To date I have assembled an annotated bibliography which consists of the most influential literature on transgender, feminist and postmodernist theories regarding gender issues. It also includes a broad-based internet search and annotated case law from various countries. This research is the first step in educating members of the Lesbian Rights working group on relevant gender and transgender issues and theory.

My task was to compile this information and forward it onto the Lesbian Rights Caucus. We have chosen to start the discussion in this forum because of the lengthy debates that arose during our discussions on Bill C-23, the Modernisation of Benefits and Obligations Act.

The Caucus has just begun our discussion on the human rights of transgendered persons and their relation to the substantive equality rights of women. NAWL has agreed to launch a discussion group among its members and to participate in a national consultation with other organisations. We intend on finding the best way to develop an egalitarian approach to the issue, one that protects and promotes the equality rights and human rights both of women and transgendered persons.

Carolyn J. Rowe is a Master’s of Arts student in Legal Studies at Carleton University and is a member of the Lesbian Rights Caucus of NAWL.