Thank you so much for joining us today, Amita. I’ll start by just giving you a chance to introduce yourself and tell us a little bit about your work.
So, my name is Amita Kuttner, and I am the former interim leader of the Green party of Canada. I’m also the first trans and non-binary person to lead a federal party in Canada and I’m also queer.
My background is originally in astrophysics, and I have a PhD in astrophysics. I’ve also done some non- profit work around tech policy.
Thank you! I’m going to start by asking and do forgive me for anything I get wrong about Canadian politics, but from what I understand you were the leader of the Canadian Greens for a year. And as you say you were the first trans and non-binary person to lead a political party in Canada.
I saw an interview you did were you spoke about rebuilding the party. Could you speak about your experience as leader and a trans person in leadership?
Yeah, I think it was interesting just leading the party during the time I was as it had gone through turmoil, public drama and scandal so it was a time for rebuilding, I don’t know if identity comes much into that process its more about the regular work of any leader trying to restabilize a party and the limits of the role of the leader anyway.
But certainly, being the first trans person and just kind of being out in a time of rising hatred with transphobia was very interesting because I had that responsibility to represent the community and do as much as I can to make sure that people understand the relationship between climate policy and social policy, and climate justice and the importance that we’re fighting for everyone’s rights.
These are not separate problems; they have the same core causes within our societal structures. You know there’s always that issue. So, I always wanted to make sure I wasn’t talking to much about trans stuff, but also making sure I was addressing it.
Absolutely and not the easiest balance I imagine, again correct me if I’m wrong but the Canadian parliament voted to ban conversion therapy during your time as leader. Is that correct?
I’m glad I got that correct then, can you tell us what that time was like?
What happened was the previous parliament brought it forward and then the parliamentary session ended when a snap election was called so it was one of the bills people were frustrated didn’t make it. Because it’s been in like the promise book of our governing parties for a little while now.
So, it was unanimously passed in the house and then sent to the senate where it was also unanimously passed and then got royal assent and is now law. It was very interesting because it took some, I don’t know what the word is here, maybe finagling, of the Conservative leadership, to get it through unanimously which then resulted in the Conservative leader being ousted.
So, it was actually rather dramatic and a beautiful show of solidarity and progressive values for the entire country but wasn’t necessarily what the entire country was thinking. Leading up to that there was a lot of work from all the progressive parties and many civil groups pushing for it and petitions.
But there was also a huge fight over the inclusion of gender identity or the method of inclusion of gender identity within a conversion therapy ban and since then there’s been discussions. Like many things within Canadian law there’s a lot of protections that are offered, but very little actual support offered to say eliminate the practice of conversion therapy or support survivors, or make sure any thing’s actually changing.
So that’s kind of the next steps where we are, but it’s certainly a good step taken.
Interesting I mean the UK is somewhat at a comparable stage. In the UK, in that there were discussions and pushes for this when both Theresa May and Boris Johnson were Prime Minister, and it’s been continuously delayed since. Again, there have also been a lot of debates around the inclusion of gender identity within the ban.
Where we now are, is the government arguing they can’t give us a date where we can expect to see legislation because they want to ensure protection is proper and robust. I think for many we would hope after six years we’d be a little further along. What advice would you have for activists and Greens here who are frustrated by the waiting game?
Yeah, I would speak primarily to my frustrations leading up to us having success in it, countering misinformation that was coming up. As to me that was the biggest reason it was being questioned, especially why you would not have gender identity included, in our case it was not that they didn’t want gender identity included entirely.
I think you’re dealing with more extreme pushback than we did but certainly we’re up against those arguments. It was really tiring to get people who were sceptical to understand that banning conversion therapy was not going to suddenly convince people into being trans or queer. And you’re making sure that no one could be convinced of something they aren’t, and I don’t think you’re ever going to find a trans person who believes anybody should be convinced of something they aren’t because that’s the horrible thing to deal with.
The idea of making a cis person believe they’re something they are not is just as terrifying. And I think that’s one of the biggest things, having that conversation before you’re too far down the road of division and misinformation. But I am kind of sorry because I think that’s its pretty clear that in the UK there’s a lot of transphobic sentiment that is intense enough to be overflowing the borders and making it across the ocean to the extent that I’ve gotten it from the UK online about me.
So, it’s I think really holding the line and saying this is actually the reasonable approach, no one is suggesting anything unreasonable, we’re trying to create the freedom for everyone to be themselves and to not in fact be convinced to be something there not.
I think that there’s always parallels to gay rights, looking at ideas like “it’s all a choice” and all those ideas, and this is currently what’s surfacing with trans people and gender identity. People are saying all sorts of completely, in my opinion, whacky things that don’t make any sense as they don’t come from a place of understanding.
My advice is to really get out there and continue having the conversation and push in every way possible, because certainly every single sitting MP is bombarded with information and the louder and more consistent we can be with giving them a simple positive message the better, as they’re also going to be bombarded with fearmongering and a whole lot of information.
Therefore, the louder you can get and the more people that can get involved the better! And I don’t like this part of it - I think everyone should be able to express themselves with all of their extreme sentiment of emotion, and when it comes to demonstrating I think that’s very, very important.
But, getting people who aren’t from any sort of community related to queer and trans things to also see how important it is and show up as allies, so they see it’s not just an issue that affects this minoritized group, everyone cares about this. It’s about fundamental human rights.
Then you show that it’s just something that needs to be dealt with and I think this is what happened in Canada, this actually worked with enough people in the Conservative party that it became undeniable to the leadership of the Party at the time that it was something they could support easily, and it could work.
Which ended up being a mess for them politically but was the right thing to do and we’ve watched kind of the split within the Conservative party because the previous leader had trans advisors and there was a whole “this is not a left/ right issue”, “this is not a partisan issue” and “this is just about people so it shouldn’t be a problem at all”.
And then since then with the rise in transphobia, there’s been people wondering which political party are they welcome in if their rights are going to be a political point so I think the volume and reason with which the message can be brought to every single MP.
Totally! I think it’s so important as a community and allies that we remain steadfast.
Yeah don’t give up. I think in the end justice prevails.
I think we have a pretty terrible situation in the UK and I’m very sorry to hear you’ve been on the receiving end of transphobia from British people.
Something else you mentioned there was misinformation, which is obviously a huge problem and the rhetoric that fuels and promotes, leading to this idea of debates we needn’t have. We know gender identity needs to be included in any conversion therapy ban and the relevance of misinformation and peddling of lies that fuels transphobia makes it a lot harder to hold the line.
I guess I’m curious to ask about we tackle this information and challenge these transphobic falsehoods.
Well, I think there’s an interesting kind of dilemma you end up in, part of what it takes to change things is representation and people being seen and understood.
But when you’re facing this much hate it’s a huge thing to ask of any trans person or any community in general to show up in the face of violence and it’s tiring. You basically need people to be supported and rotated through the very difficult work and it can’t be something people are alone in doing, and it comes down to solidarity building to maintain the energy to get through it.
Because it does wear you down, it’s one of those things that is so hard to describe. You can care about anything but no matter how much in the political world we can get used to people saying horrible things about you, and it doesn’t matter, you don’t take it seriously, it’s a reflection of them and not you- it’s still tiring, you can’t do that forever, just listening to people say horrible and untrue things about you all the time.
Certainly, I think as much as allies can share and help and support trans people to share their stories and who they are. So people can see all the fearmongering is completely unfounded, because I think at some point fearmongering and fear collapses. You can only wind so much up into something ridiculous before it collapses in on itself because people realise it has no basis in reality.
But that only happens when people have the space to share their true selves without hurt in the process so it’s a little bit of a chicken and egg situation, certainly for trans people wanting to protect themselves versus being an activist.
Absolutely, I mean we’re hoping to launch a letter writing campaign to MP’s becauseas you say it’s key to make our voices heard and hopefully something for LGBTIQA+ Greens and other Green members and supports to do, and I think this will help challenge this media narrative we have which is a big part of the problem in the UK, these constant articles talking about the same things and peddling the same lies but still making a lot of noise.
Yeah, that’s very clear.
And I suppose that’s why challenging it with consistency and clarity is key, hopefully really challenge this lopsided narrative.
Totally. I think a letter writing campaign is a great idea and a wonderful way to go about it. I would add community and solidarity building is also important, and the most powerful tool is always storytelling so, along with a very reasoned letter writing campaign. I think what gets MPs to listen is always heart.
When they can hear and connect to a story of one individual because of how human they are makes a huge difference, and same if you can get a proper meeting with an MP, and lobby, which is ridiculous, but clearly with the media narrative against you and a whole bunch of far-right organising against you, and not entirely in your own country, means you need to organise in that way.
Very true! In terms of organising, something I noticed was British Columbian Greens tabled a motion in the provincial house on banning conversion therapy and it reminded me of the Scottish Greens.
In Scotland the Green party are in government and passed a gender recognition reform bill with the Scottish national party. This got an insane amount of pushback sadly.
Yeah, I followed the whole story actually.
Wonderful, well you may have seen then well something that’s been good is they’ve continued to support it and the Greens said during the recent SNP leadership contest it was a redline.
They wouldn’t work in government if the bill was abandoned. It was really clear the Scottish Greens and its membership was clear in solidarity and organising for that.
I wondered with organising, what the situation was when you were leader of the Canadian Greens, especially with regards to conversion therapy?
Yeah, one big difference is we don’t have as much strength at the local level because of the lack of political parties at the municipal level but we do have very strong provincial parties and they’re separate from the federal party.
And there was a huge push in British Columbia to ban conversion therapy at the provincial level and it was interesting as they were in a confidence and supply agreement for a while, and then the governing party who are the equivalent of the Labour Party pretty much pulled out of that once the Greens previous leader stepped down.
Their response while they had a majority was basically like; “no, it’s something for the federal government” which is frankly ridiculous because for something like conversion therapy you should be banning it at every possible level and every possible way to create the most robust protections and there’s no reason to wait for the federal government.
The provincial Greens did do a lot of work to raise the issue to be part of the conversation and to really push on it. They did a lot of public communications and pushes in multiple ways which helped keep the pressure on the national conversation. Federal Green MPs also spoke about it in the house and advocated behind the scenes, so I think every piece makes a difference.
What gives me hope with the UK is when you look at public surveys there’s not a huge amount of opposition, it’s really in tabloids. I was watching how brutal the conversation was with Scotland, it’s difficult and disturbing as a trans person when you know this is going on.
But if you realise that narrative isn’t a reflection of who people are and what people want, and no one needs this to be the conversation. If there’s a way to call out it out, for what it is, and that’s the UK government deciding they need a scapegoat and a social scare conversation to have.
They’ve picked trans people to distract from complete economic failings and Brexit, you see no one wants this conversation as it shouldn’t be a contentious issue, the people whose bodies it’s fought over it’s tough for them but for everyone else it doesn’t really affect them.
So, it just shouldn’t be such a big conversation and I think that’s an angle that can be taken, it’s unfortunate when anyone is used as a political object.
That’s such an important thing to remember. I think back to summer of last year when conversion therapy was really in the headlines in the UK, there was pushback and frustration from the public that the government wouldn’t have a trans inclusive ban and it wasn’t popular to exclude trans people leading to a series of U-turns.
So now where we are is if and potentially when the bill arrives it may be trans inclusive, but like you see it was clear where the public was and were the government and their far-right associates were, were very clearly different places.
They’re just very, very loud.
Yeah, which often puts the government in the position of retreating on it until they can try to convince people of their position which is the fearmongering.
Yep, so now we see the deputy chair of the Conservative party declaring the next general election will be fought on culture wars and trans rights, so they can ignore other issues people are affected by, like the cost of living, the state of public services and the climate crisis. People aren’t hurt by trans people having rights or a conversion therapy ban.
Absolutely that, it sounds ridiculous when you say it out loud, every day people are impacted by all these issues but oh look at this.
I think what happens when it continues is what we see in the US, we see what happens when trans people are bullied and scapegoated for problems that are economic and otherwise.
Of course, they’re very different and down a different path but it’s clear it has happened and how it built up over time so I think that’s what makes people afraid - the fact you can experience violence in your day to day life as people now interpret you as the enemy and that is somehow so easy to construct, that’s what scares me about the blatant willingness to wage culture wars and to choose people to demonise.
Once again I completely agree and to just pick up on that point, when I was doing research for this conversation, I saw on your twitter profile, and I took a quote away form when you congratulated Elizabeth May on winning the Canadian Greens election contest.
You said, “No other party is capable of upending the status quo, to be there effectively we must be strong, self-consistent and unified.”
I do recognise Canadian Greens are separate, but I’m interpreting ‘party’ there to mean the global green movement and I want to pick up on that about how we can be strong and unified, in the face of culture wars, especially with the attacks on trans people and the broader LGBTIQA+ community?
Yeah, firstly that’s a fantastic question, and I think there’s a great opportunity for a global movement but it’s going to take us examining our values more deeply.
One of the things we’ve come up against in the Canadian Green Party is this idea of diversity and respect for diversity. Often it comes down to diversity of opinion as well and so we must actually face these issues of defining what opinion.
If you’re to have able to have any opinion, which can include a whole bunch of hateful things, which brings rise to inconsistencies with our own values and to me it goes a lot deeper.
And I mean this to all the greens because we do have these threads and these values that connect us at a much deeper level, and it’s more innate than policy. It has to do with how we envision living on the planet and the wholeness of the planet and all the people on it.
So, anything that doesn’t lead to understanding with our fellow people or leads to us supporting violence and allowing us to be held by fear is actually, I wouldn’t say breaking our values as I don’t think people can be blamed for these feelings, but means we haven’t spent the time of introspection into what it is we hold true and represent as a political movement.
I don’t want the conversation to be trans people that makes it happen, but every conversation that comes down to injustice is always a part of a thread that goes much deeper and is actually pulling and unravelling something that has to be unravelled.
Were we not having these arguments of, we can’t talk about that because it’s not climate, and there’s a difference of opinion on this, when really we’ve come under the influence of people who are fearmongering, and not from that place of community which is what we’re looking for and a way of life that is sustainable for generations where we all have access to human rights.
And the reason I really think it is that is people fight against trans rights and misunderstandings of gender identity come from the scarcity mindset, that people have to be in opposition to each other in the way we live and we know as greens that isn’t true.
So, I think that’s why it’s such an issue. The people who feel there’s a problem with trans people, there’s a fear there that we have to address.
That’s really inspiring thank you. I think that’s a really key point. The last thing I wanted to ask as your time as leader and wanting to heal those internal divisions, you even spoke there a bit about that debate, and we certainly have a similar one- we should only tackle climate issues and the idea of respecting all views when in fact hateful views shouldn’t be.
What wisdom do you have on healing those divisions and pushing for that progressive understanding without climate justice is economic justice is social and racial justice, and how we reflect that in our work?
I think it comes down to a few things. First people need to be heard and understood in the struggles they’re facing and the fears they have that are surfacing.
Because every time someone says only the climate what they’re actually saying is “I’m terrified for myself and my family, I can’t focus on anything else when I have that fear”, and the way around that is to address the fear and build community on what is possible with climate justice. Give people that sense of rest, and comfort and safety they need.
The other piece is certainly that building that understanding and people having that opportunity without putting anyone else at risk, we should know the causes of the climate crisis are the same causes of other problems; economic, social, you know everything I won’t list every policy, but they all have the same causes with our societal structures we’ve created on this planet being about extraction, scarcity and dominion.
If we can get out of that then suddenly those silos disappear, and we understand it’s all connected. Instead, you see every policy as an opportunity to be climate policy, including trans rights and healthcare.
Then everyone’s happy, it’s just not that easy to get there! Just two thoughts on the conversation on conversion therapy I want to give. One is the religious aspect as it can often be seen as interpreted as hating on the church for the practice, but that isn’t right.
Some churches think that empowering and supporting trans kids is important. I think there’s a bit of digging in the history of the Church, but banning conversion therapy isn’t a threat to the church at all.
The other question is consent, and consenting to torture, which you can’t do, and just the idea of seeing those arguments on the surface. This is a violent person, they’re a danger to women.
And it’s like if someone is a threat to women, their sexual orientation and their gender identity are irrelevant to that.
The problem is deeper, so where others put gender and sexuality as central in the conversation, I think as Greens we have the option to dig deeper, so when people have this non-meaningful argument, we can go deeper and look at the real causes and if the answer is patriarchal violence, I think we all agree.
Absolutely and thanks so much for giving up time to chat and discuss this ahead of our letter writing campaign, your insight is fascinating, and it was wonderful to hear from you.
I feel I’m taking a lot away from this conversation and I hope people who are reading this, and part of the campaign do as well. This was a really important conversation and thanks for sharing your experience with us.