National Post

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Tuesday, October 26, 1999

Rights commission recommends washroom rights for transsexuals
Richard Foot
National Post

John Lehmann, National Post
Award-winning drummer Michelle Josef, formerly a man, is a crusader for the rights of transsexuals. She also wants the Ontario health care system to cover the cost of her sex-change operation.

One of Canada's most successful country musicians is at the centre of a controversial report by Ontario's Human Rights Commission that says men who consider themselves women should be allowed into female washrooms.

Bohdan Hluszko was the drummer for the popular country-rock band Prairie Oyster until he left last year after changing his name to Michelle Josef during a series of sex-change operations. Ms. Josef, 45, has since complained to the human rights commission that she was refused female membership at a Toronto YMCA and barred from using the women's locker room.

In a new report based on the cases of Ms. Josef and other transsexuals, the human rights commission says Ontarians need to be better educated about the discrimination faced by "transgendered people," "intersexed individuals" and cross-dressers. The commission says transsexuals are protected under Ontario's human rights laws, and that someone who was once a man has the right to use a women's public washroom.

"In practice [transsexuals] encounter a higher risk of rejection or refusal when they use these facilities," says the commission report, but "there is no reason related to public decency why a transsexual woman should be refused access to women's facilities."

The commission's 47-page report also suggests government forms be changed to include a third transsexual option, when people are asked to indicate their gender.

However, the report has outraged some members of the Ontario Legislature -- where the province's Conservative government yesterday introduced changes to comply with a Supreme Court ruling that ordered Ontario to extend spousal benefits to gay and lesbian couples.

One Conservative member of the Legislature has called the human rights recommendation on transsexuals "utter craziness." Conservative and Liberal politicians alike have warned that Ms. Josef's case could become an excuse for men to dress up like women simply to peek inside women's washrooms.

"I'm just amazed at the amount of debate that's arisen simply over extending basic human rights to a very stigmatized section of the population," said Ms. Josef yesterday. "My only intention is to go in there, use the facilities, check my hair and make-up and that's it. I'm not in there to harass people or get aroused. And if people are worried about flashers then focus on them, but don't punish me."

Keith Norton, Ontario's chief human rights commissioner, says no-one should have access to public washrooms without medical reason. Many transsexuals, he says, carry doctor's letters or medical certificates that identify them as "transgendered people."

Ms. Josef -- the Canadian Country Music Association's 1997 drummer of the year -- is also taking the Ontario government to court for refusing to cover sex change surgery such as hers under the provincial health care plan.

The report is among the first human rights documents in Canada dealing with the mostly uncharted legal area of transsexual discrimination. British Columbia's Human Rights Commission has proposed an amendment to its human rights code that would make "gender identity" specific grounds for protection.

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