Why symbolic victories matter: Celebrating the inclusion of trans rights in the BC Human Rights Code

We are among many British Columbians celebrating the amendment (finally!) of the BC Human Rights Code to explicitly recognize gender identity and gender expression as protected grounds. 

While trans activists and their allies demanded this change, the BC Liberal government insisted for years that the change was unnecessary. The law is already clear, they said: even though the Human Rights Code doesn't explicitly say the words "gender identity and gender expression", the Tribunal and courts have decided that these grounds are nonetheless protected.

Why did trans activists keep fighting, then? Why did MLA Spencer Chandra Herbert introduce the proposed legislation 4 times in 5 years? And why does it feel like such a victory to see this change finally in place? 

Law is not just a set of rules. Laws are more than just lists of what we can and can't do. Laws are cultural artefacts. Laws reflect and convey the values by which we govern our conduct and organize our society.

The Human Rights Code is more than just a list of what employers, landlords, service providers, and so on can and can't do, and to whom they can and can't do these things. The Human Rights Code enshrines our collective beliefs about who deserves societal protection, and what disadvantages we, collectively, will strive to correct.

This amendment to the Human Rights Code does not create new legal rights for trans people. Rather, it publicly and loudly affirms that our society sees trans people, cares for trans people, and will fight for trans equality.

Susanna Quail practices labour, employment, human rights, and regulatory law with Allevato Quail & Worth.