Five Bills in Five Years: Gender Ideology in Ontario
By John Sikkema
Bill 33 in 2012 (“Toby’s Act”), Bill 13 in 2012 (“Accepting Schools Act”), Bill 77 in 2015 (“Affirming Gender Identity Act”), Bill 28 in 2016 (“All Families Are Equal Act”), and now Bill 89 (“Supporting Children, Youth, and Families Act”): together these bills represent the swift advance of a left-wing social agenda in Ontario.
Bill 33 added “gender identity and gender expression” to Ontario’s Human Rights Code in 2012. Ontario was the first jurisdiction in North America to pass such a law. Bill 13 required public and Catholic schools to allow gay-straight alliances and to root out “homophobia”, “biphobia”, and “transphobia”. Bill 77 prohibited “reparative therapy” for minors struggling with issues of sexuality or gender identity disorder.
Bill 28 removed the words “mother” and “father” from Ontario law, while allowing people to become parents through “pre-conception parentage agreements” with up to four unrelated and unmarried adults. Bill 89, currently at committee stage, would among other things integrate gender identity and expression into child and youth services law.
Except for Bill 13, which the Official Opposition fought well, these bills received little scrutiny. Each stems from, at least in part, the newly orthodox gender ideology.
Before “the five”
Years before any of these bills, “trans” persons had significant legal protection against discrimination under the Human Rights Code. Of course, like everyone, they were protected against discrimination based on race, age, sex, religion, and so on, but as of the late 1990s, the grounds of “sex” and “disability” in the Code were interpreted to cover transgenderism and transsexualism also. Human rights tribunals protected people against job loss, unfair treatment, or harassment for asking to be called by a different name, use a different washroom, or dress in a “gender non-conforming” manner, over a decade before “Toby’s Act” passed in 2012.
What then could be the harm in adding “gender identity and gender expression” to the Human Rights Code? What harm could it do to explicitly require employers and housing and service providers not to discriminate against someone because of their “gender identity and gender expression”? If “cross-dressing” or “sex-change” surgeries or new pronouns make you uncomfortable, get over it. If a biological man wants to be treated as a woman, accommodate him (“her” if you don’t want to be sued). Such reasoning was used to placate (sometimes to shame) the sceptical, but fails to acknowledge the difficulties. It would be cruel to kick a tenant out of his apartment for wearing a dress, but how about asking a man to leave a woman’s shelter? What about not allowing a man to play on a women’s sports team? Such questions should not be dismissed offhand as fear mongering. Where the law requires the state and society to treat men as women or vice versa, depending on the individual’s “internal sense” of their gender and associated behaviours, legitimate concerns arise.
The short march from Toby’s Act to Bill 89
Two years after Toby’s Act (2012), the Ontario Human Rights Commission released its new “Policy on preventing discrimination because of gender identity and gender expression”, which beefed up its earlier policy from 2000. You’ve probably heard Professor Jordan Peterson and others criticize this Policy because of its restrictions on free speech. The advancement of this ideology in increasingly radical form has serious consequences, not only for freedom of religion and expression, but also for public health and even public finances.
Already in 2008, the Liberals announced that Ontario would publicly fund sex-change surgeries—elective procedures that do not improve mental or physical health outcomes for persons who experience gender identity disorder. Similarly, Ontario pays for puberty-blocking drugs and cross-hormone treatments, which can cause life-long sterility. Such treatments can cost thousands of dollars per person per year. Yet studies indicate that chemical and surgical impersonation of the opposite sex is associated with negative health outcomes and high suicide rates, even in parts of the world that are considered the most “trans affirming”.
Paul McHugh, Professor of Psychiatry at Johns Hopkins Medical School and former psychiatrist in chief at Johns Hopkins Hospital says, “The idea that one’s sex is a feeling, not a fact, has permeated our culture and is leaving casualties in its wake. The most thorough follow-up of sex-reassigned people—extending over thirty years and conducted in Sweden, where the culture is strongly supportive of the transgendered—documents their lifelong mental unrest. Ten to fifteen years after surgical reassignment, the suicide rate of those who had undergone sex-reassignment surgery rose to twenty times that of comparable peers.”
Adding the dubious concept of “gender identity” to the Human Rights Code, which is unnecessary in order to protect trans people from discrimination or harassment, set the stage for more aggressively pushing gender ideology through government policies and institutions.
Not content to fund “sex reassignment” surgery and cross-hormone injections, MPPs voted unanimously in 2015 to prohibit alternative treatment methods for gender identity disorder. Bill 77 went from second reading to Royal Assent in only three months. It dictates medical policy in the name of political correctness, removing good options for parents and children. One such option was renowned child psychiatrists like Dr. Kenneth Zucker and Dr. Susan Bradley, who believe that encouraging children to be comfortable with their birth sex helps prevent long-term psychopathological problems. Dr. Zucker was removed from his Toronto clinic following Bill 77. More than 500 researchers and clinicians signed a petition in support of him. No matter.
Is affirming a child’s transgender identity, socially conditioning them in that identity, and chemically and surgically altering their bodies to align with that identity the best path? Or is the approach of Dr. Zucker and Dr. Bradley, preferred by many parents, better? How can that even be determined reliably when government brings the hammer down on the latter’s methods? In any case, should the government not defer to parents and doctors to determine the best path?
Gender ideology goes to school
Meanwhile, transgenderism and transsexualism are being normalized in public schools. Bill 13 (2012) defined bullying in a manner that focused on “power imbalance” between bully and victim based on factors including gender identity and expression. It also mandated that school boards promote a positive school climate inclusive of all students, “including pupils of any “race … sex, sexual orientations, gender identity, gender expression, age, marital status, family status or disability” and that boards (including Catholic boards) permit LGBT-positive clubs to be active in their schools and to use the name “gay-straight alliance”.
School boards now cite Bill 13 and Bill 33 (2012) as the basis for their policies. The Toronto District School Board’s policies are typical:
- “[S]chool board and school staff are expected to challenge gender stereotypes and integrate trans-positive content into the teaching of all subject areas […].
- School board and school–based curriculum leaders must integrate trans‐awareness and trans‐ positive advocacy training into staff professional development curricula. Librarians must acquire trans‐positive fiction and non‐fiction books for school libraries and encourage the circulation of books that teach about gender non‐conforming people.”
- “School leaders should make an effort to hire and retain transgender and gender non‐conforming staff. TDSB policy and Provincial legislation requires school board leaders to ensure staff are educated in gender diversity, advocacy and anti‐transphobia education, in challenging gender stereotypes, and in using gender neutral and inclusive language.”
- “A school should never disclose a student’s gender non-conformity or transgender status to the student’s parent(s)/guardian(s)/caregiver(s) without the student’s explicit prior consent.”
- “All students have a right to safe restroom facilities and the right to use a washroom that best corresponds to the student’s gender identity, regardless of the student’s sex assigned at birth.”
- “All students, including transgender and gender non‐conforming students have the right to be addressed by a preferred name and pronouns […]. This is true regardless of whether the student has obtained a legal name or sex designation change.”
- “Employees who wish to use pronouns other than the masculine or the feminine (such as ‘ze’, ‘hir’ and ‘they’) need to be accommodated equally.”
- “School staff must ensure students can exercise their right to participate in gender segregated sports and physical education class activities in accordance with each student’s gender identity.”
Pushing the idea that gender varies independent of sex and that children may fall anywhere along a gender spectrum confuses children. Gender ideology is liberalism in the extreme. Freedom is good, but the freedom to define your identity necessarily has limits. You cannot (yet) identify as disabled if you are not, or as a different age or race or species than you in fact are, and expect the government and society to affirm it. Children have a limited capacity for exercising autonomy. How they self-identify will inevitably be shaped by what they are taught.
Given how recent the policy changes in this area are, particularly in schools, there is a lack of reliable data and long-term studies on their impact. There are, however, credible reports that more children are struggling with identity issues. In November, the National Post reported that doctors are seeing a steady increase in referrals for young children experiencing gender dysphoria. The Independent in the UK reported last year that the latest figures from the Gender Identity Development Service (GIDS) in the UK, for example, revealed that the number of children referred to GIDS increased from 94 in 2009-2010 to 969 from April to December of 2015. New “gender clinics” are opening throughout the U.S. and Canada.
Children should be taught that all persons have dignity and intrinsic worth. All people are equal. Nobody should be bullied, mistreated, assaulted, or harassed. But that does not require affirming transgenderism as healthy and good, any more than respecting members of another religion requires teaching children that all religions are true and good. It does not mean we should teach boys that they can be girls, girls that they can be boys, or both that they can be both or neither. Ontario’s human rights tribunals first began protecting trans persons on the ground of disability. Gender dysphoria (recently changed from “gender identity disorder”) is still listed in the DSM-5 psychiatric diagnostic manual. We don’t need to affirm a disorder as normative in order to treat those who have it with dignity and respect.
What causes this disorder is not well understood, but environmental factors can doubtless play a role. Teaching tools such as the “Gender Unicorn” for very young children are disorienting. Might such policies cause a rise in gender dysphoria among children? New educational resources tell children that what is important is “gender identity”, which does not need to match biological sex. “Only you know whether you are a boy a girl,” the Gender Fairy, a “trans-positive” book tells children. “No one can tell you.”
Gender ideology comes home
This brings us to the Liberals’ Bill 89, the “Supporting Children, Youth, and Families Act”. This government apparently takes its cues for child services law from the Gender Fairy. Replying to questions on the bill, which adds gender identity and expression as factors to be weighed in determining a child’s best interests, Ontario’s Child and Youth Services Minister, Michael Coteau, said, “I would consider that a form of abuse, when a child identifies one way and caregiver is saying, no, you need to do this differently.” Don’t tell your son he’s a boy. That’s up to him (her, them, or zir).
“Abuse is abuse is abuse,” Minister Coteau says. “If a child is being abused, it can come in many different forms. If it’s abuse and if it’s within the definition, a child can be removed from that environment and placed into protection where the abuse stops.” What definition is he talking about? Neither the current Child and Family Services Act nor Bill 89 define abuse. Rather, the term appears in the provision that describes a “child in need of protection”. A child in need of protection includes a child who has suffered emotional harm where there are reasonable grounds to believe that the harm resulted from the actions, failure to act, or pattern of neglect on the part of the parent or caregiver. It also includes a child at risk of suffering mental or emotional harm whose parents or caregivers do not provide treatment. But what if the parents find the state-approved “treatments” inappropriate or harmful? What are they to do?
If a child’s bests interests are determined in part by their sexual orientation or gender identity, can people who would not affirm a child’s trans identity or approve of certain kinds of sexual behaviour expect to be treated fairly when it comes to fostering or adopting? These are reasonable questions. (Just ask a foster parent you know.)
ARPA has heard from some MPPs that they intend to support Bill 89 for two reasons. First, because it’s about protecting children (who could be against that?). Second, because it brings the Child and Family Services Act into line with the Human Rights Code. While both may appear to be good reasons at first glance, both are mistaken. ARPA recently ran two articles our website explaining why, which you can read here and here. If you haven’t yet read the basics about Bill 89 and the issues it raises, I suggest you begin here.
Bill 89 should be stopped, unless amended. Of course, it’s a government bill. Government bills tend to pass when the government has a majority of seats in the legislature. Still, it is worth criticizing and opposing. Meaningful scrutiny of and opposition to government bills today can begin to lay the foundations for better policy tomorrow.
Politics requires coalitions to get things done. No doubt, the coalition of those supporting bills like the aforementioned five include not only true believers in gender ideology, but also those persuaded that legislating “trans rights” is compassionate, those afraid of being labeled bigots for their views, and those who would simply rather not talk about social issues.
ARPA’s Gender Identity Policy Report for Parliamentarians explains the issue through a framework founded on principles of grace and truth. The Report’s recommendations, which involve reversing several recent enactments, are recommendations for lawmakers acting as lawmakers. Ultimately, founding law and policy upon a mistaken anthropology is neither compassionate nor just. Sex and gender are not independent of each other. But gender dysphoria calls for a compassionate response.
There is plenty that individuals and civil society organizations can do to love transgender people. I suspect that many employers – including Christian employers – would be happy to hire them. I also happen to think it should be left up to employers, particularly small business owners, to decide if they want to hire or continue to employ a trans person, or any other person. I’ve worked for family businesses, for example, where children are often helping or hanging around the worksite. For such business owners, I doubt their concerns would have much to do with how an employee sees himself, but rather with his behaviour.
Could your workplace accommodate a man who wants to be addressed with feminine pronouns, dress as a woman, and use the women’s washroom, for example? Perhaps it could and would. Maybe people should be free to decide. Requiring everyone to accommodate transgender expression under threat of financial penalties or more (such as mandatory sensitivity training and new workplace policies), all based on the view that not affirming one’s gender identity is a human rights violation, is an overreach, an ideological (you might say religious) imposition. Still, we should ask ourselves: how are we being a living example of Christ’s love to our transgender neighbours?
Transgenderism remains rare. Many people will not know anyone who openly identifies as transgender. But if you do or in case you will, here is some practical advice for loving your neighbour from Denny Burk, a Professor of Biblical Studies.