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Transgender activist not cheering Jenna Talackova’s Miss Universe breakthrough

While many LGBT rights advocates are celebrating Jenna Talackova’s successful fight to open the Miss Universe beauty pageant to transgender women, a Vancouver activist says it’s not much of a victory in the struggle for equality.\n

Avatar of Alessia Valenza

13th April 2012 01:10

Alessia Valenza

Tami Starlight, the executive director of the Vancouver Transgender Day of Remembrance Society and an organizer of last year’s Trans Celebration and Liberation March, told the Straight that there’s “almost nothing good” about the Miss Universe Organization’s announcement today (April 10) that it plans to change its rules to allow transgender women to compete.

“This whole deal is complicated at best,” Starlight said by phone from her home. “She’s fighting to get into a space in a system that is really terrible in general. It’s highly objectifying. It’s all about making money.”

The U.S.-based Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation and National Center for Transgender Equality have both commended the New York–based Miss Universe Organization, owned by Donald Trump and NBC Universal, for the move. It came just weeks after Vancouver’s Talackova was disqualified from the Miss Universe Canada contest for being transgender.

“I feel that the community does a disservice by supporting and applauding this kind of nonsense—that she’s allowed to participate in such a thing,” Starlight said.
Indeed, Starlight asserted that the “only good thing” about this “sensationalized” story is that people are linking it to the need for the rights of transgender people to be protected by Canadian law.

On September 21, 2011, Randall Garrison, the NDP MP for Esquimalt-Juan de Fuca, introduced Bill C-279 in the House of Commons. His private member’s bill would amend the Canadian Human Rights Act to include gender identity and gender expression as prohibited grounds of discrimination. It would also amend the Criminal Code to outlaw hate speech that advocates genocide against groups distinguished by gender, and to allow evidence that a crime was motivated by hate based on gender to be taken into account during sentencing.

A previous version of the legislation was passed by the House of Commons in February 2011. But former Burnaby-Douglas NDP MP Bill Siksay’s Bill C-389 died in the Senate when the last federal election was called.

“We need hate-crime laws passed,” Starlight said. “We need inclusion laws passed. We need full recognition everywhere, hate-crime enhancement laws within the legal system—all of those things. We need the Canada Health Act to step up and identify trans people’s medical needs as necessary as anything else that’s deemed medically necessary in this country, instead of playing political football with our lives province by province, and delisting and relisting over and over. This stuff has to stop. Those are the fights.”