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Written by: Marni Panas

On November 19, 2015, the Alberta Government introduced Bill 7 that would amend Alberta’s Human Rights Act to include Gender Identity and Gender Expression as prohibited grounds for discrimination.  It unanimously passed third reading.  On May 17, 2016, the Federal Government introduced similar legislation that would amend Canada’s Human Rights Act to add Gender Identity and Expression as prohibited grounds from discrimination at the national level.  Bill C-16, currently at 2nd reading, would also amend the Criminal Code of Canada to add violence, targeted speech and harassment against transgender and gender diverse Canadians to the list of hate crimes.  What does all of this mean for organizations and human resource practitioners?

Why is this necessary?

People who identify as transgender and gender diverse are often marginalized and experience discrimination at extremely high rates. This population is more likely to be unemployed, underemployed, lose their jobs and be denied basic services simply because of who they are. 

We are more likely to experience difficulty accessing health care and other community services. We are more likely to be victims of bullying, harassment and assault throughout society including our homes, schools and workplace. 

As a result of societal discrimination, we are more likely to experience isolation and depression which contributes to attempted suicide rates approaching 50%. We are more likely to experience mental, emotional and physical abuse. While case law exists to support transgender and gender diverse people in their discrimination claims, adding explicit protection under the Human Rights Act sends a clear message that we, as a society, value equality and providing a safe and welcoming community for ALL people.

Why include Gender Expression?

Gender Identity is the person’s internal individual experience of gender which may or may not match the sex that was assigned to them at birth. Gender Expression refers to how one expresses their gender externally through dress, use of pronouns, segregated facilities, social behavior, mannerisms, etc. These amendments protect all people’s expression of their gender whether they are transgender or not.

How does this affect me?

It is estimated that transgender and gender diverse people make up less than one per cent of Alberta’s population. While these changes directly affect a relatively small portion of the population, a population very much at risk, it sends a broader message that everyone should be treated with respect and dignity and enjoy the same opportunities as others in this province do. When one segment of the population feels safer and more welcome in their communities, an entire community feels more welcome. This affects everyone.

When we create an environment where ALL individuals feel safe, welcomed and valued to bring their whole self to their roles as a parent, student, friend, colleague, teammate, sibling … whether it be gender identity, gender expression, race, culture, profession, sexual orientation, age, physical and mental abilities, family makeup, etc. – whatever it is that makes us who we are – everyone benefits. The individual is happier and more productive in all areas of their life. Their relationships become stronger. The people around them become more positive sending ripples across an entire community.  This contributes to the improvement of the overall happiness and health of society. 

What do we do now?

It is incumbent upon companies, organizations, leaders and human resource practitioners to review their policies and communication to ensure they are reflective of this legislation and of the people who you work with and the people you serve.  We must review our hiring practices and performance evaluation methods to ensure they are free from bias against transgender and gender diverse people.  We must update our employee training and respect in the workplace documentation.  We should develop guidelines to support employees who are transitioning in the workplace.  We must ensure the privacy and safety of these employees and the people we serve are protected.  In a July 13 decision by the Privacy Commission of Alberta against the Edmonton Public School Board, they made a clear statement that ignorance and outdated technology cannot be used to deny the protection of information related to a transgender or gender diverse person’s gender identity (www.oipc.ab.ca/media/715497/f2016-26order.pdf<https://www.oipc.ab.ca/media/715497/f2016-26order.pdf>). 

Laws are necessary.  Well worded policies are important.  However strong our words on paper are, they mean little unless we put those laws and policies into action.  We can start by understanding the unique challenges and needs of transgender and gender diverse people and provide diversity and cultural competency education to the people of our organizations.