People who are transgender, or who otherwise don’t conform to gender stereotypes, come from all walks of life. They are represented in every social class, occupation, race, culture, religion and sexual orientation, and live in and contribute to communities across the world.
Yet, “trans” people are one of the most disadvantaged groups in society. They routinely experience prejudice, discrimination, harassment, hatred and even violence. People who are in the process of “transitioning” or “coming out” are particularly vulnerable. Many issues go to the core of human dignity. Courts and tribunals have recognized this as “substantial and disturbing.”
Trans people face these forms of social marginalization because of deeply rooted myths and fears in society about people who do not conform to social “norms” about what it means to be female or male. The impact is significant on their daily lives, health and well-being.
At the same time, broader social and legal change is underway. Society is beginning to recognize the value and importance of respecting every person’s gender identity and expression. International human rights standards, domestic legislation and legal decisions have confirmed the legal obligation to uphold the right to be free from discrimination and harassment based on gender identity and gender expression.
Trans people and other gender non-conforming individuals are often judged by their physical appearance for not fitting and conforming to stereotypical norms about what it means to be a “man” or “woman.” They experience stigmatization, prejudice, bias and fear on a daily basis. While some may see trans people as inferior, others may lack awareness and understanding about what it means to be trans.
“The notion that there are two and only two genders is one of the most basic ideas in our binary Western way of thinking. Transgender people challenge our very understanding of the world. And we make them pay the cost of our confusion by their suffering.”
Bias and prejudice, or simply ignorance, can lead to isolation, vulnerability, disadvantage and discrimination at school, at work, in stores and other services, or even where people live. Trans people living in smaller towns or rural communities may even be more isolated
Many situations of discrimination happen because of negative attitudes, biases and stereotypes about people who are trans or gender non-conforming. Stereotyping is when assumptions are made about individuals based on assumptions about qualities and characteristics of the group they belong to. When people stereotype others, they do not see the real person. Stereotypes are often unfounded generalizations that come from misconceptions and incomplete or false information about people. Anyone can stereotype and not even realize it, even those who are well meaning.
There are widespread stereotypes about trans people in society that often go unquestioned. These include wrong ideas that trans people are “abnormal” or “unnatural,” that they are “frauds,” deceptive and or misrepresent themselves. They may be seen as more likely to take part in criminal activity, be pedophiles, or have mental health problems. Some believe trans women to be a threat to other women.
Anyone who engages in illegal activity including threatening or harassing behavior or assault should be dealt with accordingly under the law. This should not detract in any way from the rights of trans people.
False and harmful stereotypes are rooted in fear and uninformed attitudes and can lead to discrimination against trans people because of their gender identity or expression.
”Transphobia” is the aversion to, fear or hatred of trans people and communities. Like other prejudices, it is based on stereotypes that are used to justify discrimination, harassment and violence toward trans people.
“Cisnormativity” (“cis” meaning “the same as”) refers to the commonplace assumption that all people are “cisgender” (not trans). In other words, their gender identity is in line with or “matches” the sex they were assigned at birth, and everyone accepts this as “the norm.”
The term is used to describe stereotypes, negative attitudes and prejudice towards trans people that are more widespread or systemic in society and its institutions. This form of prejudice may even be unintentional and unrecognized by the person or organization responsible, making it all the more entrenched and difficult to address.
“Cisnormative assumptions are so prevalent that they are difficult at first to even recognize… Cisnormativity disallows the possibility of trans existence or trans visibility. As such, the existence of an actual trans person within systems such as healthcare is too often unanticipated and produces a social emergency of sorts because both staff and systems are unprepared for this reality.”
Society’s bias that there is only one right, normal or moral expression of gender underpins this form of prejudice and the discrimination that can result from it.
Several statements from international human rights organizations have recognized the fundamental human right to self-identify one’s gender, and the need for protection against discrimination based on gender identity and gender expression.
In 2011, the United Nations Human Rights Council adopted a resolution, supported by 85 countries including Canada, to study the issue of human rights, sexual orientation and gender identity. Among other things, the resolution expressed concern about acts of violence and discrimination against individuals because of their gender identity. In a report later that year, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights emphasized that governments have an obligation to protect people from discrimination because of gender identity.
Under the Human Rights Act it is unlawful to ask questions of (or about) a job applicant that indicate an intention to discriminate on one of the grounds covered by the Act. If an employee considers that an employer has acted in this way, they may make a complaint under the Human Rights Act. Return to Employment Center.