Christin Milloy:

Rise up and seize equality

Miss Universe Ditching Anti-Trans Rule a Sign of Change in Public Attitudes

Note: This article was published in XTRA (slightly edited) as Donald’s pageant trumps our legislators on trans rights on April 12th 2012.

This has been a big year so far for the advancement of trans people, and I’m not just referring to legislative efforts like C-279 and Toby’s Act. Take a look in the media.

In January, a TV show based on the juvenile notion that male bodies in women’s clothing is inherently gigglesome aired only two episodes before it was summarily cancelled, universally panned as offensive and unfunny trash.

Last fall, people tuned in to see how Chaz Bono would do on Dancing with the Stars.

And just recently, not only was trans bombshell Jenna Talackova reinstated to the Miss Universe Canada competition after being disqualified, but the organization has agreed to rescind its now infamous “must be born female” restriction.

In a public statement on the decision, Miss Universe organization President Paula Shugart credited the advocacy work done by GLAAD (the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation). In reality, the decision rested with pageant owner Donald Trump.

In a radio interview with TMZ, after tastelessly bragging about his genitals, Trump discusses his reasons for reinstating Jenna but makes no mention of GLAAD.

“We said she would be able to compete, based on the laws of Canada, and the laws of the United States… So we go by the law, and based on the laws, she’s able to compete if she wants to.” He continues later: “The law of Canada is very clear, and the law of the United States is very clear on this, and we go by the law.”

After tens of thousands of people cried out online against Jenna Talackova’s disqualification, the response throughout social media was heavily in Ms Talackova’s favour. As the story spread, even mainstream media began to smear the Miss Universe rules as discriminatory, outmoded and unfashionable.

Like any billionaire, Trump chooses words very carefully. By repeating the word “law” a total of seven times, he subtly appeases any offended conservatives in his audience by artfully assigning the impression that the decision was legally foisted upon him, even though that’s likely untrue.

Under the current nebulous law in Canada, Miss Universe could have fought Talackova in court and may have succeeded. In the States too, precious few jurisdictions have any sort of gender identity discrimination protections in place. However, such a battle would have certainly generated more public ill will toward the Miss Universe brand.

Questioned further, Trump reveals what is likely the real motivation behind his decision. “Certainly it’s gotten a tremendous amount of publicity, and the Miss Canada pageant has become very sought. I tell you, the tickets have gone through the roof, and everybody wants to be there (…) in certain ways, it’s not necessarily the worst thing that could ever happen.” Profit is paramount for Mr. Trump; hence, Talackova is in, transphobic rules are out, and we have a recently forceful pro-trans public opinion to thank for it.

In separate polls conducted recently, Canadians and Americans both responded overwhelmingly in favour of giving trans people the same rights and protections as everyone else. The numbers were about the same in both countries, over 90% in favour. In 2012, the populace is less divided on trans rights than they are on same-sex marriage.

The force driving this phenomenon is likely education. The American poll revealed something interesting, and perhaps unexpected: more than two thirds of people have a pretty good idea of what it actually means to be trans. When asked, the majority gave reasonable answers like “switches from one gender to another,” or “born in the wrong body,” outweighing a much smaller percentage who could only provide fallacious responses such as “has a different sexual preference” or “has both sex organs.” I think positive media portrayals of trans people, both in the news and in entertainment, are to thank.

To a cisgender person who has never had any trans exposure, the idea that one might feel they were born in a mismatched body can seem weird, even preposterous or creepy. But in my experience, all it takes to convert someone who was previously transphobic is to actually meet a trans person. When they see and hear us express ourselves, it just clicks for them. You can tell the moment they realize we’re legit. The subsequent change in perspective is easy to understand—once you’ve got a friend, an acquaintance, or even just a celebrity you respect who is living the trans experience and teaching you about the realities inherent to that, cracking jokes about it is no longer funny.

So private organizations are beginning to do the right thing, not necessarily out of altruism, but mainly because they are accountable to their customer base—and marketers recognize the rising tide of cultural acceptance and respect for trans people.

Private companies have certainly outpaced our federal government. As an excuse to vote against C-279, most Conservative MPs are claiming trans people are already sufficiently protected enough under existing law. This, despite ongoing problems for trans people getting access to gender-appropriate identification documents, gender identity cases being lost in court, and with Transport Canada instituting carelessly worded regulations which technically ban trans people from flying on airplanes.

With government squarely to blame for the harshest, most institutionalized and least movable transphobic discrimination, perhaps public opinion can sway our legislators to catch up with contemporary attitudes. I urge you to contact your federal MP and provincial MPP today, regardless of their party affiliation, and tell them you support explicit human rights protection for trans people.

It’s sad when our leaders and lawmakers are less progressive than an American billionaire’s beauty pageant.

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Christin Milloy