Spotlight on Gender Diversity. What does it have to do with you?

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Just as Canada welcomes ethnic diversity and multiculturalism, it also upholds gender diversity. Many times, when gender diversity is mentioned, we usually think about equality or equity between women and men. Issues such as equal pay, equal opportunities, especially as they relate to the workplace are common talking points. But actually, gender diversity encompasses so much more. Gender diversity extends to providing recognition, respect, and equal opportunity for all, regardless of gender or gender identity.

Human rights and gender identity

The Manitoba Human Rights Code lists 13 protected characteristics in the Manitoba Human Rights Code, among them gender and gender identity (you can see the other 11 protected characteristics in this article: What are human rights?).

What’s the difference between gender and gender identity, you might ask?

Gender refers to a system of classifying people, often based on their assigned sex. Meanwhile, gender identity means “a person’s deeply felt internal and individual experience of gender. It is not restricted to classifying a person as “man” or “woman” and can include a broader spectrum of identities.” (Manitoba Human Rights Commission).

Gender identity should also not be confused with sexual orientation. “A person’s sexual orientation refers to the potential for emotional, intellectual, spiritual, intimate, romantic, and/or sexual interest in other people, often based on their sex and/or gender. This is also known as attraction and form the basis for aspects of one’s identity (e.g. gay, lesbian, queer, asexual, heterosexual, etc.), and/or behavior.”

At the core of all the issues on gender sensitivity is respect. Whatever your beliefs or understanding of gender/gender identity, who you are dealing with is a human person. Every person has human rights and deserves respect.

Why should you care?

For some newcomers, understanding the scope of gender identity can be complicated. For some of us who have lived in societies where the accepted sex or gender is strictly male or female, embracing these concepts can challenge some of our fundamental beliefs. If you are a newcomer struggling to understand the concept of gender diversity, you will need to keep an open mind and practice empathy.

It is crucial for us to learn more about gender diversity because it is part of integrating fully into the Canadian society. Just as we strive to be accepted, we also need to accept and be tolerant of others. Knowing about gender diversity is also important because situations that may constitute as discrimination or harassment based on gender identity can happen in many areas of life. It can be in employment, housing, the provision of services and others. If you are an employee, employer, landlord or service-provider, not being gender sensitive can make you liable for discriminatory actions. For instance, if you refuse to provide service to a transgender person, this constitutes discrimination. Likewise, calling a transgender co-worker derogatory names, or making inappropriate jokes makes you liable for harassment.

At the core of all the issues on gender sensitivity is respect. Whatever your beliefs or understanding of gender/gender identity, who you are dealing with is a human person. Every person has human rights and deserves respect.

With thanks to Muhammad Ahsan, Education Program Coordinator of Rainbow Resource Centre for reviewing the article and providing a list of definitions of LGBTQ2SQ+ terminology. Thanks too to Mike Tutthill, Executive Director of Rainbow Resource for his assistance.


Please note that English is a fluid language in which terms, definitions and meanings change over time, culture, political climate, and geography. The following serve as working definitions that provide an initial foundation of understanding.

Ally – A person who supports the civil and human rights, and gender equality and equity of sexual and gender minorities. Allies proactively challenge homophobia, biphobia, transphobia, heterosexism and other forms of systemic and individual oppression.

Asexual – Considered as a sexual orientation whereby a person lacks sexual attraction or personal interest in engaging in sexual expressions. Asexuality is distinct from abstaining from sexual activity, celibacy or lower/lack of sexual desire due to stress, illness or injury. Some asexual people do however engage in sexual activity to please romantic partners or if they desire to have children. A 2004 study in the Journal of Sex Research indicated the prevalence of asexuality at 1%.

Biological sex – A person’s combination of chromosomes, hormones, and gonads. Most of the time, these combinations result in individuals being assigned female or male at birth. When combinations of chromosomes, hormones, and gonads are present outside of typical formations of male or female, the individual may be considered intersex.

Bisexual – An individual who is attracted to males and females. Other bisexual (or bi) people include other genders including transgender individuals.

Cisgender – Cisgender means “not transgender”. The prefix cis- means “on this side of” or “not across.” Cisgender originated as a way to shift the focus off of a marginalized group, by defining not only the minority group but also the majority. Prior to 1995, there was no standard term used to describe non-transgender people without the use of negative prefixes while still avoiding terms like “normal,” “real,” “born” or “generic” (women or men).

“Coming out”/Disclosure – “Coming out” is a process of embracing and disclosing one’s sexual orientation and/or gender identity. This process generally occurs on three levels: personal (with oneself), private (family and friends), and public (at work or with the community at large).

Gay – A male-identified person who has an attraction to other male-identified individuals. May have origins around 12th century in England, from the Old French ‘gai’.

Gender – Gender refers to the socially constructed roles, behaviour, activities and attributes that a particular society considers appropriate for men and women. Adapted from: The World Health Organization (2013). Gender may be seen as a fluid idea in that it shifts and changes rather than being something rigid.

Gender identity – The internal, deep-seated and psychological sense of being a gendered person. This includes: man, male, masculine, woman, female, feminine, transgender, pan-gender, genderqueer, Two-Spirit, third gender and all, none or a combination of these and others.

Gender expression – How a person expresses and communicates their gender to others: clothing and dress codes, hair styles, mannerisms, way of speaking, roles we take in interactions, etc. Gender expression can be seen as a spectrum that includes femininity, masculinity and androgyny with most individuals expressing a combination of masculine and feminine qualities at the same time. Gender expression can vary for an individual from day to day or in different situations. Some people are comfortable with a wider range of gender expression than others.

Gender non-conforming/Gender diverse – Refers to those identities and expressions of gender that do not conform to the dominant gender norms of a particular culture. The term is deliberately broad, encompassing such identities and expressions such as, butch, queen, sissy, travesti, hijra or tomboy.

Gender queer – An individual who does not prescribe to any one particular gender or sexual orientation.

Heterosexism – A bias towards, and assumption of, heterosexuality. Often subtle, but nonetheless pervasive, heterosexism implies the expectation that we live heterosexually and operate within ingrained gender role stereotypes. Heterosexism is also the belief in the superiority of heterosexuality. Those that do not live or subscribe to this “norm” are viewed as deviant, radicals and threats to the very fabric of a community or society.

Homophobia/Biphobia/Lesbophobia/Transphobia – The negative attitudes and behaviours against, or cultural and social aversions toward individuals who identify or are perceived as being lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, Two-Spirit, or queer. Harassment, bullying, violence, discrimination, isolation are some forms of such phobias.

“Invisibly trans”/Stealth – Being “invisibly trans” or stealth, in regard to gender identity, refers to a person’s ability to be regarded as the sex or gender with which they identify, or with which they physically present. Typically, being invisibly trans or stealth involves a mixture of physical gender cues (for example, hair style or clothing) as well as certain behavioral attributes that tend to be culturally associated with a particular gender. Being invisibly trans comes with more privilege and safety than those who are visibly trans.

– A female-identified person who has an attraction to other female-identified individuals. The term lesbian is derived from the name of the Greek island of Lesbos.

Oppression – “Oppression is the systematic, institutionalized, and socially condoned (elite sanctioned) mistreatment of a group in society by another group or by people acting as agents of the society as a whole.” DeAnza College. Political Science, 2006 (

Pansexual – Pansexual is described as the capacity of attraction irrespective of gender (male, female, transgender, etc.) in comparison to the term bisexual which assumes attraction to men and women.

Pronouns – A personal pronoun refers to a specific person. Pronoun uses of her, she, him, he, they, them are interwoven with sex identity. However, appropriate and respectful pronoun uses are aligned with gender identity. Example: A transwoman’s appropriate pronoun would be ‘she’ unless she indicates otherwise. A transmale’s appropriate pronoun would be ‘he’ unless he indicates otherwise.

Queer – Historically used as a negative, pejorative, homophobic slur meaning: ‘strange,’ ‘unusual,’ ‘something suspicious or not quite right,’ or ‘someone who exhibits socially inappropriate behavior.’ Today queer has been reclaimed by many as an inclusive, unifying, sociopolitical umbrella term for people who are gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, transsexual, intersex, genderqueer and/or those whose sexual identity or activities are perceived outside the mainstream.

Questioning – Refers to people who are uncertain about their sexual orientation and/or gender identity. They often seek information and support during this stage of their identity development.

Sexual orientation
– Sexual orientation is a person’s emotional, physical, intimate, romantic and/or sexual attraction to others. Categories of sexual orientation include heterosexual/straight, gay, lesbian, bisexual, pansexual, and asexual.

Transgender/Trans– An umbrella term that represents many individuals that cross, challenge and transcend traditional definitions of male and female including: transmen (FTM/trans male – transitioning from female to male), transwomen (MTF/trans female – transitioning from male to female), genderqueer people, Two-Spirit individuals, and transsexuals. A transgender individual’s sexual orientation varies and is not dependent on gender identity.

Two-Spirit – An English term to describe the ancient teachings of First Nations people who embodied the spirits of male and female. Two-Spirit people were “looked upon as a third gender in many cases and in almost all cultures they were honored and revered. [Two-Spirit] people were often the visionaries, the healers and medicine people.” Colonization reinforced homophobia among many tribes and tarnished the honor of what it meant to be Two-Spirit. Today, the term Two-Spirit is being reclaimed as sacred; it also encompasses individuals who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender. Adapted from: Two-Spirits flyer,2006(

Sources: Manitoba Human Rights Commission. Accessed Nov. 16, 2017. Rainbow Resource Centre, Feb. 2018.

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