As Chair of the Human Rights Committee, I witness many touching and insightful stories to help the Senate stay informed on issues that Canadians face from all walks of life. Monday was no exception.
Professor Sara Davis Buechner, Associate Professor of Music at the University of British Columbia appeared to be a poised, successful, and kind woman; however, after hearing the hardships she faced during her transition period as a transgender person we were convinced of her unfaltering courage.
After graduating from the Julliard School in 1984, her professional life was flawless. She performed as a solo pianist with many of the world’s leading orchestras, played for the likes of President and Mrs. Clinton and was acknowledged by President Ronald Reagan for her outstanding achievements. She traveled the world and made 50 appearances a year. Unfortunately, her personal life was a different story.
At the age of 37 after a lifetime of questioning, Professor Buechner decided to transition to her core gender, which is female. Although her outward appearance changed, her musical talent remained unblemished. Yet, she lost her job, was ridiculed and denied the right to legally change her name, and was the victim of an attempted date rape. She never reported the attempted date rape to the police because, in her own words, “I assumed they would think that I deserved what I got”.
Professor Buechner’s story illustrates that although Canadians deeply value equality and diversity and appreciate the mosaic we are, the discrimination against certain groups still goes unnoticed. The median incomes for trans Ontarians is $15,000 a year, despite reasonably high levels of education; 74% of trans Canadian youth have been verbally assaulted because of their gender identity and expression; and 43% of trans people have attempted suicide at one point in their lives.
We must take proactive steps to fight the stigma around minority groups and explicitly recognize transgender rights to make these issues visible. By adding gender identity as a specific basis of prohibited discrimination under the framework of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, Bill C-279 will be a long overdue step in the right direction to protect the rights of all Canadians.