Canadian trans activist Brae Carnes shot to international attention last month with a social media campaign protesting conservative amendments to a proposed national trans rights bill.
The bill, C-279, was designed to add gender identity protections to Canada’s Criminal Code and Human Rights Act. C-279 was hijacked in the Senate by conservative lawmakers–including the outspoken Donald Plett–who proposed exemptions to public areas, such as bathrooms, crisis centers and prisons.
Carnes took these politicians head on, with a ground breaking “bathroom selfie” campaign, posting pictures of herself in men’s restrooms, and saying “Plett Put Me Here,” and “Share if you Think I Look Out of Place.” The pictures went viral, inspired other activists to follow suit, and added a much needed dose of reality and humanity to discussions over so-called “bathroom bills.”
We talked to Carnes about her activism, her conservative foes, and what trans equality means to her.
PQ Monthly: When your pictures started circulating, it seemed like something changed in the culture. Previously, when conservative lawmakers and religious groups have tried to scare people with the image of trans person in bathrooms to discriminate, they went largely unchallenged. Your photos showed the ignorance of that argument, and proved who’s really being victimized by such laws. Were you surprised by the huge response your campaign created?
Brae Carnes: I was very surprised at first. I thought the local newspaper and radio would be the peak of my campaign’s publicity. I was so inspired and fueled with the constant positive support that I just kept doing what I was doing. Next thing I knew I was seeing my photo and the issue being published throughout the world. I was seeing my face in articles that I couldn’t even read – Korea, Japan, etc.
PQ: In your posts, you target conservative Senator Donald Plett personally holding signs while in men’s bathrooms that say “Plett Put Me Here.” Is there a reason you wanted to call Plett out so specifically? Have you heard any response from him?
BC: Everything that happens in politics is very complex and involves numerous people. Plett, however, spoke out about the amendments made to C279. I had to put a face to the issue. I had to humanize the source of trans dehumanization. I have not heard from him directly. I would love to, and ask him to meet often via twitter. He has yet to respond.
PQ: The conservative argument that protecting trans people’s rights to access restrooms that align with our gender identities will “open the door” for pedophiles to enter women’s restrooms has always struck me as idiotic. It’s as though people really think sex criminals are waiting for this law, which doesn’t affect them, and in no way legalizes their accessing bathrooms, to commit crimes. Do you think arguments like that are sincere, or do think they’re just coded transphobia? Do you think conservatives really think trans people are sex criminals?
BC: I think it is transphobia for sure, but in this case the notion of a man in a wig entering a woman’s washroom is a sloppy excuse. The conservative senators planned to derail Bill C279 and effectively kill it before the Senate’s upcoming recess. I believe they tried to come up with the most reasonable excuse they could to ensure Trans* people did not gain protection under the Canadian Human Rights Code.
PQ: You’re active on YouTube, and have a video called “I Want a Talk Show.” Do you still want to have a talk show? Do you think your newly high profile will help you break into mainstream media?
BC: Right now I am trying to keep my personal desires and the campaign separate. I would love a talk show but the rights of my trans brothers and sisters are far more important. I will focus on my career when I am equal to everyone in Canada and I have my birth rights restored. Some things are more important than oneself.
PQ: What’s the status now of the trans rights bill, which conservatives like Plett hijacked with their transphobic amendments? Do you have specific goals for your campaign?
BC: My campaign is the same: have the amendments revoked and add continual pressure on the senate to do so. I want bill C279 passed and made law without any amendments. The help from so many people across the globe is keeping me positive.