Ottawa’s transgender community cautiously optimistic

“I once thought I was the only one in Ottawa,” Amanda Ryan says. “I once thought I was alone.”

Imagine what it would be like to leave behind everything you know — everything that is comfortable and familiar — and start over.  That’s exactly what Ryan had to do.

The Ottawa resident remembers the first time she went out in public as a woman.  “I went to the door a dozen times” before stepping outside, she says.  “I came back in to the room and I just shook.”

Fifteen years ago, she says, Ottawa wasn’t accepting or even welcoming of transgender people, “but it was polite.”  She says that in earlier years people would sometimes point or stare at a transgender woman but for the most part kept to themselves.  “That is as much as we are asking for,” she says.  “Just to be treated like a person.”

Linda Slater’s life as a transgender woman began when her wife discovered her cross-dressing.  “She basically said I was sick,” says Slater, a retired Bell Canada worker who also worked repairing old tools.

Notably, Slater still presents herself as a man in the workplace and lives only part-time as a woman. She has still endured her fair share of discrimination since she came out in the late 1990s.  Stores would refuse service and people would call out profanities as she walked by on the street.

“I would walk down the street the odd time, and a bunch of teenage boys would whistle and say, you know, fag or whatever,” Slater says. Having lived in Ottawa the majority of her adult life, she does say Ottawa has always been a little friendlier than other cities in Canada.  “Tolerant, I guess, is the word.”

Visibility a huge factor

“People are going to be freaked out.”

Andrew Giguère is a an active member and advocate for the LGBT community in Ottawa | Photo by Brea Elford

Andrew Giguère is a an active member and advocate for the LGBT community in Ottawa THE JUNCTION/Brea Elford

According to Ryan, visibility is a huge reason why people are becoming more accepting of the LGBT community. But Ryan also says that increased visibility has also resulted in an increase in the number of transphobic hate crimes. By being more active in the community, she says, “we are becoming more visible and people are going to be freaked out.”

“We are pushing forward, so now they are turning around and pushing back,” said Ryan.

Andrew Giguère, an active member of the city’s LGBT community, says people are changing the way they perceive LGBT individuals. “If you allow for ethnic and cultural diversities, maybe it’s not nearly as melodramatic as it seems,” Giguère says.

Ottawa’s LGBT  on Vimeo | Andrew Giguère speaking over Ottawa’s Bank Street mural (

Ryan recalls one particular instance in Ottawa when the atmosphere surrounding the transgender community shifted. It was eight years ago at the Capital Pride parade and the crowd not only looked at the group as it walked by, but actually applauded. Ryan says that since that moment, people often cheer during the parade.

Ryan attributes a lot of this support to the accomplishments made by the LGB community  over the years. “The rights that they have got have filtered right down to us,” she says.

Legal action

Giguère echoed Ryan’s sentiments. “People are seeing that there is a world that is more diverse than they accepted,” he says.

He pointed to the fact that Canada was a decade ahead of the United-States in recognizing  same-sex marriage. But the recognition of same-sex marriage doesn’t mean the fight to end marginalization is over, Giguère says.  “It is just different,” he says.

For example, he says, trans-identified people — people whose gender does not match their performance — do not have equal rights at the federal level. There are still discrepancies in access to things such as income and health services, as well as social stigma in the education and marriage institutions.



Many in Ottawa’s transgender community hope the Trudeau government will bring much needed changes to rights at a federal level.  Bill C-279, an act that would amend the Canadian Human Rights Bill and the Criminal Code to include gender identity, was passed by the House of Commons in 2013.

But the legislation was amended and delayed by the Senate and didn’t receive royal assent.

Known colloquially as the Bathroom Bill, the legislation was amended by the Senate to restrict transgender bathroom access in public places such as change rooms, public bathrooms and prisons. These amendments were made on the grounds that predators would abuse the privacy of such places.

Ryan says these amendments are a setback for the transgender community, but she remains hopeful the new government will act quickly on promises made during its election campaign.

Social Opportunities

Giguère says that when he first came out he listened obsessively to David Bowie because that was all he had at the time. He says he often felt isolated, like there was no one else living his reality.

He now works hard to ensure there are inclusive, safe, and welcoming places in Ottawa. He points to social meet-up groups like Geek-Out as places to seek comfort and camaraderie.

Ryan, who now works for Gender Mosaic, an advocacy group in Ottawa, says it was organizations like that which took her in and showed her she wasn’t alone.

Moving Forward

Slater has lived as a transgender woman in Ottawa for 25 years. She says she knows Ottawa is becoming more inclusive, to the point where she can now go into a shop and people will treat her the same as any other customer.

She also says the Ottawa Police Service has come a long way in acknowledging transgender individuals. According to Slater, in the early 1990s, police would ridicule transgender individuals and refuse to help or treat in a crisis.

“The social stigma of being gay or trans, it is all about education,” Ryan says.  “People are listening.

“The work is not done by any means, but we are certainly progressing.”

Giguère urges people to regard all communities as diverse. “There is not one way you can paint a picture about a community that is going to be one-sided or simple,” he says.

“Everyone has hardships,” Giguère says. “The world is big, and there are a lot of different people in it.”

Author: Brea Elford

Share This Post On

Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *