Okanagan Pride president hails proposed transgender protections

New president Sydney Lawson calls federal human rights protections a "huge move forward."

The new president of Okanagan Pride is welcoming the federal government’s introduction of legislation to extend human rights protections to transgendered Canadians.

Sydney Lawson, who is also Pride’s director of transgender development, called the move by the Liberal government a “huge move forward.”

“It’s time for all Canadians to have the same protections,” she said Tuesday.

Earlier in the day in Ottawa, federal Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould introduced the legislation to change the federal human right code and update the Criminal Code to extend hate speech laws to include gender identity and gender expression.

“We live in a time when discrimination in any form is completely unacceptable,” said Wilson-Raybould. “This is a message of hope to ensure that we recognize gender identity and gender expression and provide the ability in our country for people to feel safe and secure in who they are.”

The Liberals included a promise to protect transgender Canadians under federal human rights laws in last year’s election campaign. Previous attempts at similar changes put forward by the NDP were unsuccessful when the Conservatives were in power.

Lawson said given the support for the change not only by the governing Liberals, but also the  NDP and some Conservative MPs who have admitted changing their minds on the issue, she is confident the legislation will be approved. And she hopes to see it in place before the end of the year.

As for what’s included, she said while not totally conversant with all the details yet, from what she has heard and from speaking to others about it, there appears to be no gaping holes in the protections being called for.

The issue of the need for those protections was literally taken to the streets in Kelowna last August when the first Trans March was held here as part of Pride Week.

Some marchers said they had been refused rental accommodations in the past here and they felt helpless to fight that discrimination.

But Lawson said she was pleasantly surprised at the level of support for the entire LGBT community here when she came to town just a year ago.

“We still have a ways to go and a lot of work to do but it is changing,” she said, adding she has also been impressed by the number of companies here that have contacted her asking her to speak or help them make their operations more inclusive.

“There’s definitely been a shift,” said Lawson.