Trans Rights Happened in Canada Today, and I am All Tears

In Senator Mitchell's office, moments after Bill C-16 passed

In Senator Mitchell's office, moments after Bill C-16 passed

I feel like I've been holding my breath for a long three-and-a-half years, since my first family member came out as trans. Today, I finally let it out - along with a few tears.

The vote so many of us have been waiting for happened today. I was there, hands shaking, heart pounding, sitting in the visitor's gallery, hanging on every word from the Senate floor below. 

67 members of the Senate of Canada voted in favour of Bill C-16, the trans rights bill. 11 voted against, and 3 abstained. When the vote was done, those who voted "yes" turned to the gallery, where many trans people and their loved one were seated, and broke out in smiles and applause. 

It was done. In a powerful show of support from the Senate, protections for trans people will now be added to the Charter of Rights and Freedoms and to the Criminal Code. This is a historic day.

Many people in the gallery cheered and clapped at the news. They were initially hushed by security - because making any noise up there is a serious no-no - but it didn't take long to see that was a lost cause. There were too many folks there who had spent years fighting for this moment, and they weren't going to be quiet about it. 

Many people shook the hand of Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould, who sat among us to watch this historic moment. That's what you do when the Justice Minister is spending time with you in parliament. You act professional, you smile, and you shake her hand. It's a happy day, after all, and she, along with some dedicated MPs and senators, had seen that bill through to the end.

Meanwhile, while everyone was busy being joyous and shaking hands, I burst into tears.

Because I had been holding my breath for three-and-a-half years, not wanting to hope for this moment, in case this bill died on the floor like others of its ilk before it. I didn't want to hope so hard, just to have that hope dashed. I didn't want to believe the ladies I love, my brave and beautiful wife and daughter, both out and proud trans women, might finally have the rights all Canadians deserve.  

So when the bill passed - when the Senate turned towards us and clapped and I realized this was truly happening - I cried, ok? I did. Don't judge.

Here's the thing: Zoe and Alexis are strong, capable women. They're smart and resilient and can get through anything. Hell, just having the courage to come out and live as their true selves speaks volumes about that. But I'd be lying if I said I haven't been intensely protective of them.

I know what society can be like for trans people; I work closely with the community, I listen to their stories, I know what they're up against. Even though the provinces have stepped up and implemented their own laws, the fact that there were no protections at the federal level felt... heavy. For everyone. For trans people, especially, and for their loved ones.

The truth is, every time I'm out with Alexis or Zoe, I'm on guard. I'm looking for the people who might give them a hard time. I'm looking for the stares or disapproving frowns that could lead to something worse. I'm looking for trouble.

Each time they leave the house without me, I worry a little. I hope they're safe. I hope nobody gives them a hard time. Because I know harassment happens. Assault happens. Murder happens. Hate crimes happen. This is the reality of being transgender. I'm a member of the greater LGBTQ community, and I have to worry about that, too. But not like they do.

Will a federal law fully protect them against all of those things? No, of course not. If laws were all it took to stop harassment, assault and murder, we'd have a very peaceful society. But they do send a message. When the federal government says, "We have laws protecting gender identity and expression," it sets the tone for the entire country. It further strengthens the resolve of provinces that are supportive of trans people, and it encourages those dragging behind to hurry and catch up. It reminds those who hate that they can't hate openly. You can't let your bigotry out to play here, buddy.

When that vote happened today, I cried because I felt a weight being lifted. My country, the country I am proud to call home, now fully recognizes, supports and protects my family as it is today: A family with two moms and three kids, with two trans people and three family members who love those trans people exactly as they are. My family. My diverse and very special family.

The Knox Family, 2016

The Knox Family, 2016

 

So when the Minister came my way, I was in full-blown happy tears. Not my most professional LGBTQ advocate moment, but those tears were earned, ok? She took one look at me and didn't shake my hand. Instead, she hugged me. "Thank you from my family," I managed to say to her.

And one after another, many of the amazing members of the trans community who were in that gallery followed her lead, and hugged me, too. Like, so many hugs. So much love. This, of course, just made me cry more. Thanks a lot for ruining my eye makeup, everybody.

The community has worked hard for this moment. Some of them have been fighting for this day for years. Sure, the parents and partners helped. But the older trans generation taught us parents how to support our children, and taught us partners how to love another person through transition. 

Some of us, in turn, have been able to use our families' stories to push this bill forward alongside the community. Parliamentary allies like MP Randall Garrison and Senator Grant Mitchell helped immensely. Together, we had more voices, added more pressure, and saw bigger results.

But they did this, the trans community did this, and this is their day.

It's Zoe's day. It's Alexis' day. It's not really my day. But I cried anyway, because love is a powerful thing, and I am catching my breath.

We still have work to do. Laws are important, but lasting change happens through education, one person at a time. There are many people out there who still don't understand. And so I'm nowhere near done telling our family's story. We're nowhere near done normalizing queer families.

But today, through the tears, we're celebrating. 

Because love is a powerful thing.

Amanda Jette Knox