(Originally published in LGBT Perspectives)

Jillian Page
LGBT Perspectives

MONTREAL — It was one of Montreal’s unheralded facts: the city has the only clinic in Canada that performs sex reassignment surgery (SRS), or gender confirming surgery as it has come to be known, and one of the world’s top surgeons in the field, Dr. Pierre Brassard.

True, many if not most trans people across the country and many around the world were aware of the clinic’s existence and its excellent reputation for both its surgeries and its aftercare.

But the vast majority of Montrealers, Quebecers, Canadians, North Americans and Earthlings around the globe in general were simply unaware that Montreal was one of the best places to go to for gender-confirming procedures. At first glance for anyone who happened upon the Centre Métropolitain de Chirurgie (CMC), it was just another private clinic where various types of plastic surgery are performed — and, indeed, the clinic does do all sorts of plastic surgery, i.e. facelifts, breast implants, etc. Services for trans people are only part of its procedures.

So, when news broke last week that an arsonist had attacked the CMC, the first reports, essentially briefs, in local media — the Montreal Gazette and the Journal de Montreal, to name two — didn’t mention that it is Canada’s only SRS clinic because, quite probably, the journalists handling the story didn’t know. Even if they were aware that Montreal has an SRS facility here, they didn’t know its name or location.

The clinic has tried, for the most part, to “fly under the radar,” Dr. Brassard told the National Post in an article last week.

And it seemed at first that the media were willing to keep it that way last week after the news broke and they became aware of the importance of the clinic to trans people. There was — and still is — no evidence that the attack was an anti-trans hate crime or that anyone was trying to draw attention to SRS services there. Would it be right to out the clinic — and, by extension, so many of its trans patients — for its SRS work before an arrest was made and the attacker’s motive was known? It was a question that responsible editors had to ask for followup coverage — and as a journalist who works for the Gazette, I can tell you that the question was asked there.

Disclosure: I wrote a blog/journal for the paper for many years about trans and LGB issues, and I was deliberately vague about the Montreal clinic. I didn’t mention its name or location because I didn’t want to see Westboro Baptist Church types picketing the place.

Well, the answer last week came from trans people themselves: many complained in social media settings like Facebook and Twitter that the Canadian media were downplaying the SRS angle and the impact of the fire on trans people — not to mention other patients booked into the clinic for things like facelifts.

As trans advocate Morgan Oger told the National Post (see link above), “That someone firebombs a hospital… it sounds a lot like anti-abortion radicals. … I’m not really seeing an uproar about this. It’s been totally played down.”

Foreign media had picked up on the trans angle quickly. And some Canadian media outlets — including the Gazette and the Post — soon decided they had no choice but to report that angle as well. The story had developed; it was more than just an arson attack on a building that sidelined a business temporarily, postponing the surgeries of some patients. It was being viewed as a potential attack on trans people, and it had shaken the trans community across the country. And perhaps most important of all, it highlighted the need for more such facilities in Canada.

As Susan Gapka of the Trans Lobby Group in Toronto told the National Post (see link above), the fire — whether caused by faulty wiring or arson — at the CMC “really highlights the need for more access points. We need public services locally in jurisdictions across Canada.”

No doubt, that might be part of the silver lining in all of this. The need is being highlighted in media reports.

But what about the CMC? Can it ever return to anonymity? Or will it find itself being picketed by anti-LGBT right-wingers when it is up and running again?

Whatever the case, life may never be the same again for those who work for the CMC.