"Come with me. You’re going to meet the prime minister."
My family and I were sitting in the House of Commons in Ottawa on May 17, 2016, when a member of the Canadian Parliament came to find us. We exchanged surprised looks and quietly rose from our seats, making our way out into the halls of Canada’s most important edifice.
We were there because we’d been invited to witness history that day.
And now, quite unexpectedly, we were about to meet the man at the helm of this historic change: Justin Trudeau.
In order to understand why we were seconds away from this meeting, it’s important to know why we were asked to be there in the first place.
In many ways, my family is a fairly typical one, with two parents, three kids, and a house in the ‘burbs. I’m a writer, and my spouse works in high tech. We throw birthday parties, pay our taxes, cut the lawn, and walk the dogs.
If we were ice cream, we’d be vanilla.
Yes, we’re pretty average except for one thing: Two of our family members are transgender.
Just over two years ago, our middle child came out as trans.
Seeing her blossom from a depressed and distressed "boy" into the radiant young lady she is today was the catalyst my partner needed to speak her own truth 18 months later: She is a transgender woman.
We had become vanilla ice cream with rainbow sprinkles.
While I had no trouble accepting Alexis as my daughter, I questioned whether or not my marriage could survive my spouse’s transition. Could I love her as much as I loved "him"?
As it turns out, I most certainly can. Zoe is beautiful, joyful, and more engaged in life than her male facade ever was. In many ways, she’s an upgraded version of the person I met 23 years ago, making it easy to fall in love all over again. I’m very lucky to have her as my wife.
One thing that made Zoe’s transition easier is Canada’s solid support of same-sex couples. In 2005, we became the fourth country to legalize same-sex marriage.
This has huge implications for families like ours. It meant Zoe could legally transition to female without us losing our rights as a married couple.
But Canada lags behind in transgender rights. As such, we’ve chosen to focus heavily on advocacy, speaking to media, giving talks, and using our voices however and whenever we can. Trans people face increased risk of discrimination, poverty, violence, and suicide. This will only get better if we shine a spotlight on these issues and insist something be done.
In the past, legislation aiming to provide protection to trans folks has been introduced — and thrown out — six times in Canada.
As such, a person’s gender identity and expression are currently not protected under the Canadian Human Rights Act.
In other words, my wife and daughter do not have the same rights as most Canadians. This is unacceptable. Thankfully, it looks like all that is about to change.
On May 17, 2016, the International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia, Canada’s newly elected Liberal government introduced another trans rights bill.
The advantage this seventh attempt has over its predecessors is that it’s the first bill of its kind introduced by a seated government, giving it a more significant chance of becoming law. The Liberals invited trans advocates from across the country to come to Ottawa and witness this historic event.
This is how we found ourselves hurriedly walking through parliament for a surprise meeting with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
Trudeau approached us with a smile in the quiet hallway, shaking each of our hands.
We were thrilled and, admittedly, a little starstruck. He was as kind and sincere in person as I had imagined him to be. It was evident that this day meant a great deal to him, too. After all, his father, former Prime Minister Pierre Elliot Trudeau, was instrumental in decriminalizing homosexuality in 1969. The apple did not fall far from the tree.
I thanked Trudeau wholeheartedly for the work his government is doing to support LGBTQ families.
He responded modestly, saying his party was happy to be doing their small part to help a much larger movement.
He then thanked us — us! — for living openly and bravely, saying change can only happen through example. It was one of the best moments we’ve experienced as advocates.
But the day didn’t end with that meaningful meeting. Throughout the day, we met with several other members of Parliament, and even dined in the parliamentary restaurant with our local members of Parliament. We had the pleasure of meeting with and thanking the minister of justice, Jodi Wilson-Raybould, who has been instrumental in making this new bill a reality.
It was a day my children will remember forever; a day when they got to see, firsthand, how much the Canadian government supports families like ours.
Two weeks later, Trudeau raised the pride flag on Parliament Hill for the first time in Canadian history. And when Ottawa locals gathered to remember the victims of Orlando’s terrible massacre, members of his cabinet attended the vigil, exchanging hugs and tears in solidarity.
It has never been more important for governments to rally around the LGBTQ community.
No, laws will not protect everyone from bigotry, but they send a clear signal to those who wish to discriminate against or cause harm to marginalized groups.
I believe everyone deserves to feel safe, regardless of who they are or who they love. It does my heart good to know my government believes this, too.