Updated: Note the new location, FAB 220
The Political Science Graduate Association and the Faculty of Arts at the University of Alberta are presenting the panel Legislating Sexualities in Alberta. It will be held from 12-2pm on Friday, February 5, 2010 in FAB 220, University of Alberta North Campus. More information can be found on the facebook page:
This panel will bring together a number of interested and informed actors to discuss the implications of the Alberta government’s actions and attitudes pertaining to sexual minorities. The motivations, repercussions and significance of the Adult Interdependent Relationships Act (AIRA), Bill 44, the de-listing of gender reassignment surgery, and the eventual declaration of pride in Edmonton will be considered.
Lucas Crawford (English & Film Studies) Dr. André P. Grace (Education)
Dr. Lois Harder (Political Science) Dr. Cressida Heyes (Philosophy)
Rachel Notley (MLA for Edmonton-Strathcona) Michael Phair (Education)
Like it or not, the law has major consequences and affects on our identities and relationships. I’m looking forward to hearing this panel discuss what these consequences and affects are for sexual minorities in Alberta.
Bill 44 amended the Human Rights, Citizenship and Multiculturalism Act (HRCMA), in part by changing its name to the Alberta Human Rights Act (AHRA), and generated controversy because of its enshrinement of parental rights and its use of the Human Rights Commission to enforce them. For a deeper understanding of the bill and its ramifications, read this post by Linda McKay Panos.
I hope there is some discussion of citizen engagement in response to the bill and how social media fueled and facilitated the debate. A letter writing campaign was launched and rallies were held in opposition, Facebook groups were started on both sides of the debate and there was much discussion on Twitter – to the point where the hashtag #bill44 trended (was one of the most mentioned terms or hashtags on the site) during the final debate of the bill.
What gained less attention was the reason the legislation was being reviewed. In the 1998 the ruling on the Vriend case, the Supreme Court of Canada read sexual orientation in to the AHRA (then the HRCMA). Due to the common law tradition, the law itself changed as soon as the ruling was handed down. Legislatures usually amend the written law to reflect such changes soon after such a ruling, but in this case, Alberta’s legislature took ten years to respond. I’m curious about the length of time governments have to change written legislation after an SCC decision.
The de-listing of gender reassignment surgery (GRS, also known as Sexual Reassignment Surgery, SRS) for transgendered Albertans raises questions about who we deem worthy of medical treatment and how marginalized minority groups are treated in Alberta. It also raises questions about how people are defined under the law. Our society is heavily invested in the idea of a gender binary and our laws and bureaucratic processes reflect that. Transgendered people in Alberta, and in most places, must identify themselves as male or female on government documents (India legally recognizes the hijra as a third gender, but even this is problematic, in part because it groups all non-conforming gender expression in to an ‘other’ category). Not conforming with one’s legally designated gender can have many legal consequences (US websites) going beyond discrimination.
Ontario was forced to re-list GRS after the Ontario Human Rights Commission found gender identity disorder was a disability protected by human rights legislation. This raises questions of how we classify difference; it would be better to see trans people protected in terms of identity than in terms of disability. Complaints have been filed in Alberta claiming the de-listing of GRS is in violation of the AHRA. I am hopeful the precedent set in Ontario will be followed, these challenges will be won and funding for GRS will be reinstated.
I’m also very interested in learning more about the Adult Interdependent Relationships Act. Though it can be argued this legislation was created to prevent same-sex couples from marrying, it is progressive in terms of its recognition of legal rights for people in alternative households. Although it does not provide all of the legal benefits of marriage, it is a law that acknowledges people have ways of supporting each other and living together outside of the nuclear family structure. The AIRA is a fairly new law and some of its language is ambiguous. I’d like to know what kind of cases, if any, have come before the courts to test this law.
Though it’s been over 40 years since Trudeau declared the state has no place in the bedrooms of the nation, the law continues to affect our relationships and our identities. I’m looking forward to learning more about how it does so and what the consequences – intended and not – are.
Legislating Sexualities in Alberta will be held from 12-2pm on Friday, February 5, 2010 at the University of Alberta in Dentistry/Pharmacy 2104, University of Alberta North Campus.
If you can’t wait to think about how the law effects and interacts with our identities, relationships and life chances, check out this lecture from Dean Spade entitled Trans Politics Beyond Law and Order. Spade recently spoke at UofA as part of iSMSS’s Inside/OUT Speakers Series and was recorded by CJSR‘s GayWire. Dean Spade is an Assistant Professor of Law at the University of Seattle Faculty of Law and founder of the Sylvia Rivera Law Project, which “works to guarantee that all people are free to self-determine gender identity and expression, regardless of income or race, and without facing harassment, discrimination or violence.”