Carlson_Johnstone This article is more than 1 year old

Trans Advocates Worry Wave of Far-Right Hate Will Increase Discrimination in Canadian Workplaces

"We should not, by any means, minimize the economic impact of rising hate.”

Transgender advocates across Canada are concerned that the wave of far-right hate against trans people will lead to increased workplace discrimination, despite Canada’s legal protections for gender identity and expression.

Fae Johnstone, Executive Director of 2SLGBTQ+ consulting firm Wisdom2Action, has worked with hundreds of employers across Canada to develop trans-inclusive workplace policies.

“That is one of the worries that keeps me up at night,” Johnstone told PressProgress.

“Increasing social stigmatization and harmful tropes against trans people are filtering throughout our society, so there is a risk here that we will see employers become more hesitant to engage with trans people or bring trans people onto their teams.”

Johnstone was the target of international anti-trans hate earlier this month after Hershey’s included her in theirInternational Women’s Day campaign, sparking outrage from right wing media personalities like Matt Walsh and Tucker Carlson.

Johnstone stated her life will “never be the same” after the “entire force of the anti-trans ecosystem” targeted her, resulting in threats, harassment, invasions of privacy, and blatant lies and conspiracies about her.

Anti-trans and 2SLGBTQ+ hate has increased throughout the past several years across North America. In Canada, far-right groups linked to the convoy occupations have opposed 2SLGBTQ+ resources in schools and protested family-friendly drag queen events. The US has seen a wave of transphobic legislation in several states and gun violence at drag queen events.

Conservatives have used the baseless accusation that 2SLGBTQ+ people are “child groomers” since at least the 70s to justify employment discrimination against 2SLGBTQ+ teachers. In recent years, the baseless “groomer” accusation has taken an even darker turn intertwined with far-right conspiracy theories about sex trafficking rings like QAnon and Pizzagate.

While Hershey’s stood by Johnstone in response to the transphobic backlash, Johnstone is worried the fallout may result in other employers being more cautious about trans inclusion.

“I’ve been joking that I had my one corporate sponsorship opportunity and I don’t think I’m going to get another one ever again because my simple inclusion in a corporate campaign resulted in a global news story,” Johnstone said. ”That is seen by employers and unfortunately could, in certain contexts, increase their hesitancy to hire trans people.”

While Canada has national and provincial human rights protections for gender identity and expression, that doesn’t stop employment discrimination against trans people, Johnstone says.

“We should not, by any means, minimize the economic impact of rising hate.”

Trans and non-binary people experience greater economic insecurity than cisgender workers, research shows, though Canadian data on trans and non-binary people is scarce.

According to a 2019 TransPulse Canada survey, nearly half of participants 25 and older reported annual income below $30,000, while 24% reported income below $15,000.

Almost half of all trans respondents to a federal government survey reported experiencing harassment in the workplace, and some reported they conceal their gender identity at work all together. The issue is compounded for racialized trans people, who report higher levels of harassment and discrimination.

Employment and housing discrimination are factors in trans people being more likely to engage in sex work, which increases their risk of sexual assault and negative interactions with police. Trans youth are also five times more likely to attempt suicide in Canada.

Johnstone says the labour movement has a huge role to play in building trans inclusive workplaces and holding employers accountable.

“Unions are trans people’s best friends,” Johnstone said. “There is absolutely a crucial role here for labour.”

Johnstone worked with the Public Service Alliance of Canada on a video series about building trans-inclusive workplacesthrough education and collective bargaining in 2019.

In the video, Johnstone outlines how unionized workers can negotiate with their employer for anti-discrimination clauses, gender inclusive washrooms, and benefit coverage for medical and transition related expenses, among other things.

Temoc Vega, co-chair of CUPE 3903’s Trans Feminist Action Caucus, says CUPE 3903’s trans-inclusive collective agreement facilitated their relatively “seamless” medical transition. CUPE 3903, representing teaching and graduate assistants and part-time librarians and archivists at York University, had negotiated strong transition leave protections and a $50,000 transition fund to pay for medical costs not covered by OHIP.

“If it wasn’t for the union, I would have had a more difficult time transitioning altogether. I would have been out probably like $20,000, so it’s huge, right?” Vega told PressProgress. “CUPE 3903 is basically the gold standard of contracts. A lot of locals look to us for inspiration and as a baseline of what can be achieved.”

CUPE 3903’s contract formed the basis for CUPE’s national bargaining guide for trans inclusion and gender diversity at work, Vega adds. Most national public and private sector unions have also developed their own trans-inclusive bargaining guides.

“The law is on our side, but we can’t just rely on the law to help us,” Vega says. “We need collective power in order to push for better working conditions.”

Jade Pichette, Director of Programs at Pride at Work Canada, works with large employers across Canada in developing policies for 2SLGBTQ+ inclusive workplaces.

“One of the biggest things that we’ve noticed is the need for mentorship and sponsorship programs that really uplift trans and gender diverse folks because we see that one of the biggest barriers is the lack of network,” Pichette told PressProgress.

Workers in non-unionized workplaces can push for trans-inclusive policies through employee resource groups which can influence company policies and procedures, Pichette says.

Pride at Work partnered with the University of Toronto’s Institute for Gender and the Economy to conduct the first survey trans and gender diversity inclusion policies across Canada in 2019. The survey found many current policies were not adequate enough to address anti-trans discrimination.

Graphic via Pride at Work/Institute for Gender and the Economy.

Jaime Sadgrove is the Manager of Communications and Advocacy at the Canadian Centre for Gender and Sexual Diversity, a youth-led organization that works to end 2SLGBTQ+ discrimination through education.

Sadgrove says more Canadian data is needed to better understand the issues trans and non-binary people face in the workplace, especially younger people entering the workforce for the first time.

Statistics Canada only recently began to collect data on trans and non-binary people in the 2021 Canadian census, which shows Generation Z and Millennials were three to seven times more likely to identify as trans or non-binary than older generations.

The federal government also included new consultation data in its first 2SLGBTQI+ action plan released in 2022 and has committed to another national survey on 2SLGBTQI+ issues. The federal Employment Equity Act Review Task Force will also submit recommendations for 2SLGBTQ+ inclusion in a report this year.

Right now, numbers on the streets matter just as much as spreadsheets. In Ottawa, Sadgrove was encouraged to see hundreds of people show upto defend a drag queen story hour event from 30 far right protesters. Sadgrove hopes allies in rural communities will show up to support 2SLGBTQ+ members as well.

“If there are readers who are part of a union and are looking for ways to stand up for queer and trans people but don’t know how, they can reach out either to a national 2SLGBTQ organization or to their local community center,” Sadgrove says.

“We are always more than happy for their support.”


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Emily Leedham
Emily Leedham is PressProgress’ Prairies Reporter. Her reporting has a special focus on workers and communities, big money and corporate influence, and systemic racism.

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