July 25, 2016 MLA Laurie Throness

L. Throness: It’s a pleasure to speak to Bill 27 today. I want to thank the government for allowing me to speak. This is a freedom afforded by our B.C. Liberal coalition that might not be available in some parties across Canada, so I’m grateful. And, of course, my views are my own and not those of the government.

I want everyone to know that I respect and appreciate all British Columbians, no matter their gender expression or sexual orientation. I certainly wouldn’t want to discriminate against anyone in matters of employment and tenancy and the other grounds enumerated in the B.C. human rights code.

Because the House is unanimous in this respect, it’s difficult for me to share some concerns that I have with this bill, and greater societal concerns as well. So today, I suppose, I’m testing not the tolerance of this House for the transgender community but the tolerance of this House for me and for people like me.

I have a few problems with the bill, and I want to explain myself in a thoughtful way. In the bill before us, we have a new category added — that of gender identity and expression. It was formerly subsumed under the category of sexual orientation, but this bill will lift it from that place to be given its own explicit category in law.

I would point out that this has not been done for any other group. This is the only one. First Nations people, whose vulnerable children are committing suicide at a terrible rate, are not named in the law. One might think that vulnerable elderly people are often discriminated against, but they remain hidden under the category of age.

One might specify certain races or religions or ethnicities. I can think of many disabilities, say of developmental delay, or perhaps impairment of sight or hearing or some other impairment, who must experience discrimination as well. But the government has named only one group.

Taking this unusual step may well open up the door to other demands, and why would we not assent to others if we want to be fair to everyone? There are many vulnerable groups in society, not only transgender people, who may lay equal claim to special mention in the code.

As a matter of law, this bill is unnecessary. The government has steadfastly maintained in this chamber for years that gender identity and expression are already covered under the category of sexual orientation, so this bill is not about further protection of rights.

Nevertheless, to my mind, the elevation of gender identity and expression is not window dressing. It has great symbolic and political import. If it meant nothing, it would not have been requested.

In my opinion, this special recognition reflects the strong and growing political influence of the LGBT community. Transgendered people are a vulnerable group, for sure. But in a paradoxical way, they are also very powerful. Indeed, in this bill, they have turned around an entire government, caused it to do an about-face on a policy the government has stood on principle against for years.

There are various indications of power we could turn to. When the White House is bathed in rainbow colours, it’s not a symbol of weakness but of strength. Look at Vancouver or Toronto’s pride parade. These are all displays of power. Politicians and academics, human rights tribunals, the public service, LGBT organizations and the media — all these elements of society are ready to descend on the head of any offender, wielding two great weapons of shame and condemnation at the mere rumour of discrimination or even if someone refuses to applaud.

The people of Steinbach found this out a few weeks ago, when some local politicians declined to walk in the first pride parade. They didn’t attack or even criticize. They just withdrew. About 5,000 people quickly arrived in the town for a celebratory parade, but it was also a massive, pointed rebuke to the inhabitants, backed up, of course, by an ever-compliant and uncritical media.

The movement would brook no difference of opinion in Steinbach. I thought the whole thing was in rather bad form. After a generation of demanding and receiving tolerance, I wonder if the now-powerful LGBT movement is very tolerant of difference in this country.

Closer to home, Trinity Western University wanted to keep its sexual ethic, an ethic that’s 2,000 years old and practised by a billion people around the world. Trinity didn’t criticize or attack anyone. It just wanted to withdraw from certain behaviours. But lawyers rejected Trinity Western’s law school, even though section 41 of the very code before us today states that it is not discrimination for a religious or social group to prefer its own. It seems that the B.C. human rights code, as well as a global religion, are of little consequence when they conflict with the values of this powerful movement.

I’m always protective of the public interest, the collective welfare of all British Columbians. Certainly, the LGBT community is a legitimate interest, but it’s not the only one. I don’t care if it’s a Christian or some other religious group, an industry or a powerful business lobby or a rich person or an insistent organization. When some person or group becomes irresistible to the government, when the government can no longer say “no” to them, I get uncomfortable with that, because if government ever aligns itself with any partial or private interest rather than the public, someone else’s interest is going to suffer.

Moving on, not only the category of gender identity but also the category of sexual orientation is added to section 42 of this bill, which are not defensive provisions. They’re about positive action in employment equity programs and programs designed to ameliorate their condition. They didn’t need to be added, either, I’m told. They were already protected through decisions of the courts.

Employment equity means preferential hiring in the public service. Until now, B.C. has only given First Nations employment equity programs. We can now expect the LGBT community to ask for preferential hiring throughout the public service.

Then there are programs of amelioration. What programs might be designed? Well, they’ve been suggested by the speaker before me. Off of the top of my head, I can think of programs in schools, school curricula, building codes, government communications. The list goes on. Really, anything is possible.

Inclusion of the terms “gender identity” and “expression” is a political statement to be followed by requests for programs of employment equity and amelioration. The government wouldn’t add the terms if it didn’t intend to follow through and put them in place, so for sure we can expect them. Indeed, the member for Vancouver-Kensington has already begun by calling for province-wide programs, so this is just the jumping-off point.

To sum up this point, I don’t really think this bill is about protection, because transgendered people have always been protected in the B.C. human rights code. This is not about protection as much as it is about the programs that will flow from this special recognition.

This leads me to my main concern. I want to move on to talk for a moment about the content of the programs to come and how they might affect people, particularly children, youth and impressionable people.

This is my opinion. There are two alternatives — two logical alternatives — regarding gender. There is the view of gender fluidity. The transgender movement is predicated on this belief, that gender is fluid, that in some cases one’s gender does not match one’s biology and a person must therefore transition their body to more closely resemble their true gender, often by altering their bodily characteristics in a number of ways. This can be a long and painful journey. That’s one view.

There are many in this province who take a different view of gender, a fixed view. This view would say that while there is a reasonable range of natural variation, where a man may be more feminine or woman more masculine, gender is not divorced from one’s biology. It remains rooted in a person’s sex characteristics, and there is a natural psychic attachment to one’s biological self which, of course, is internal and can never be changed. That bond is very difficult to break. Therefore, biology is destiny. Gender is broadly consonant with one’s biology, and how we were born is who we are meant to be. This is a legitimate position to take, and I believe it to be true.

For me and thousands of my own constituents, this position is rooted in Christian faith. I might, for example, quote the following passage from the Book of Psalms where David is talking to God, and he says: “For you formed my inward parts. You knitted me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works. My soul knows it very well.”

Parents might read this verse to their children and assure them: “You are wonderful and wonderfully made. You are beautiful just the way you are. Your gender and your biology are not an accident; they go together. There is meaning and value and purpose in the way you were made, so rest in who you are. Accept and be content with your body. Rejoice in the fact that you are a boy or a girl. Celebrate your womanhood or your manhood.”

I’m informed by my faith on this matter, but that isn’t necessary. You don’t have to be religious to give this message to your kids. I think this is a positive, healthy message that many parents, religious or not, would like to teach their children and would like their children to be taught in school, because children are, by definition, immature and impressionable. Their developing self-concept might be swayed by suggestions that cast doubt on the stability of their own gender, and they could make premature decisions that they would not otherwise have made that could drastically alter their lives, some in hurtful ways.

To me, who takes the fixed-gender approach, the message of self-acceptance is the healthiest message we can deliver to children, youth and impressionable people. However, today, in this bill, I’m concerned that our government is symbolically aligning itself with a partial interest that takes only the other view. Any programs designed to encourage greater acceptance of transgender people may be informed only by them, as a sort of societal project.

As a recent editorial in the Huffington Post said: “It’s time we stopped trying to fix transgender people. It’s time to fix society.” Programs might, therefore, assume, imply or even assert that gender is a fluid concept, suggest that everyone’s gender may be in question, that people should explore different lifestyles and look deep within and finally make a decision to embark on that difficult journey.

Many parents I know would be distressed if their children were exposed to these suggestions, and some children could eventually experience harm. I think parents should be free to advise and encourage their children to love and accept their bodies, including their birth gender, and they should have the option to choose institutions that support that belief.

As I said in the beginning, the beauty of democracy is that we can believe different things. Or can we? I have some questions. My first question is for the LGBT community. Now that the movement has arrived, now that its view dominates in our society, is it mature enough to tolerate difference, or will it brook no dissent, no other view?

My question for my own government, which I’m proud to support, is this. Will parents be able to send their children or young and impressionable people to an institution that supports the acceptance of one’s birth gender, or will government take a monolithic approach that supports the concept of gender fluidity alone?

In fact, the questions I have just asked are the very kinds of questions the LGBT community asked of society decades ago. Is society mature enough to tolerate the LGBT movement? Can there be more than one view, or must society be monolithic? Do our feelings matter?

Society certainly answered the LGBT movement in the affirmative. Today the shoe has been firmly and formally placed on the other foot. How will, now, the LGBT movement deal with difference now that its view dominates? This, I would assert, is a test of maturity, it’s a test of democracy, it’s a test of liberty, and it is a test of character.

I can tell you that there would be distress concerning this matter among thousands of parents, hundreds of churches and independent schools and other organizations around the province if they had no input on this question.

Politics these days is so driven by feelings. Everyone has feelings. Transgender people have feelings, and I want to be sensitive to them, but so do others — good and reasonable people, salt-of-the-earth people, not people who hate anyone or who would want to discriminate against others but people who feel genuinely concerned about this. They are just as much a part of the province as anyone else, and they, too, are worthy of respect.

I have wrestled hard with how I’m going to vote on this bill. I have decided that the most accurate way to represent my feelings is to abstain from voting. I don’t want to vote against anyone’s rights, but neither can I support what I think threatens to be the entrenchment of the fluidity of gender.

So I’m asking the government, as it moves forward with programming, to be sensitive to the beliefs of everyone in B.C. We need a balanced approach to offer concerned parents and other leaders options for the content of government policies and programs directed toward children, youth and impressionable people.

We are all British Columbians. Everyone’s view is important. We all deserve to be heard.

Finally, I want to end on a positive note. The member for Vancouver–West End is rejoicing today, and I want to congratulate him and our friends in the gallery who are with us. I want to affirm all British Columbians, including gay, lesbian, bi and transgender people, and those who are not quite sure yet. You, too, are wonderful and wonderfully made. Your biology is beautiful. You bear the majestic and noble image of God most high, and your life has meaning and purpose. However you have chosen to express yourself, may grace and peace be with you.