Advocacy & Legal Issues

Advocacy means supporting an individual or a group in getting what they need.

Sometimes advocacy involves providing support or resources so a person can better assert their rights, think things through, decide on a course of action, or otherwise solve the problem. Sometimes advocacy involves working on behalf of an individual or a group to defend their rights, negotiate a solution to a particular problem, or try to change the way a system works.

Kinds of Advocate

Who Can Be an Advocate?

An advocate can be you yourself, a friend or family member, someone in your community with experience with advocacy or a licenced professional.

Self-advocates 

People who represent themselves

Sometimes self-advocates act completely on their own, and sometimes they get help from other people to make it possible to be self-represented. If a lack of information is the biggest barrier for you in advocating for yourself, you can ask for help in researching information or understanding how a system works. A loved one or a community peer can give you moral support. 

Informal advocates 

Friends, family members, other people with no special training in advocacy

Informal advocates are people you trust them to help you. Informal advocates usually can’t make decisions for you, but they can ask questions, suggest possible ways to solve a problem, challenge a decision and educate someone else on your behalf.

Community advocates 

People who act as your formal advocate

Community advocates are not professional advocates, but they have experience advocating for other people, and sometimes have specialized advocacy training. Like informal advocates, community advocates usually can’t make decisions for you but can attend formal meetings with you to provide you with information, advice and support.

Professional advocates 

Licensed professionals who have formal training in advocacy (social workers, lawyers, etc.)

In BC, there are laws determining what a specific professional can and can’t do. For example, a lawyer can do some kinds of advocacy that can’t be done by another type of professional. When a professional is legally representing you (for example, in court) they are still acting on your behalf and under your instructions. Professional assistance is often helpful when a system is so complicated that you don’t have a good chance of getting what you need without a professional to help you navigate through it.

Tips

Advocacy tips

Here are nine tips for becoming a good advocate. 

1. Be clear

  • Try to understand both the big picture and the details, and how they fit together.
  • Treat everyone in the way that you want to be treated – with respect and dignity.
  • Be clear on what you are trying to achieve and what is most important.
  • Be clear on your role and the role of other people who are involved.
  • Don’t make an agreement on behalf of a person you are advocating for.

2. Be organized

  • Take notes on meetings, appointments and phone calls so you can remember what was said, and when and by whom it was said.
  • Keep copies of all paperwork and correspondence.
  • Keep all your information organized and in a safe place.
  • Keep track of the timelines and deadlines. If you know you can’t get a task done on time, before the task is due ask for an extension.

3. Be informed

  • Understand the system’s rules, the people involved and who makes decisions.
  • Know your rights and the rights of the people you’re challenging.
  • Know who you can call on if you need more information or support.

4. Be credible

  • Show you are well informed – you understand how the system works, you know the facts of the situation and you are clear on what you want to have happen.
  • Show that you have considered a variety of perspectives.
  • Give examples of how other people dealt with similar situations, to support your position and show that a creative solution is possible.
  • Use a formal tone that conveys that you expect to be taken seriously, just like a professional would be.

5. Choose your strategy

  • Think about what tactics will be best for a specific situation, rather than always relying on the same tactic.
  • Focus on creative solutions rather than getting stuck on the problems.
  • Balance planning and intuition. Go in as prepared as possible, and be willing to change your plan if an unexpected opportunity arises or your plan isn’t working.
  • Be patient and persistent.
  • Save your energy for the issues that are most important to you.

6. Listen and watch

Sometimes advocacy is about making a principled stand even when there’s no hope of victory, but usually it involves trying to persuade someone to change what they’re doing. Being persuasive is not the same as being manipulative or otherwise acting in a way that lacks integrity; it is about figuring out how to communicate in a way that reaches people and moves them to act. This is different in every situation.

Some people respond well to passionate arguments or personal stories; others only listen to economic rationales, and get squeamish when asked to listen to a personal appeal. When you’re first engaging in a situation, focusing on listening and watching (rather than trying to get your point across right away) helps you get information that will help you pick your tactics and strategies. You’re not only getting information about the situation, but also about the people involved.

7. Get beyond confrontation

  • Confrontation can be an important persuasive tool in advocacy, but it’s not the only way to bring about change, and it’s often risky. Sometimes clear, calm, firm communication is as effective (or more effective) than confrontation.
  • Focus on a possible solution rather than assigning blame for the problem.
  • Think about how to express disagreement without closing the lines of communication.
  • If you’ve reached a deadlock on an issue, move on to a topic where there’s still room for negotiation, rather than going around and around in circles.
  • If communication is going downhill and things are getting tense, ask to take a break or continue at a later time.

8. Take care of yourself

Advocacy can be inspiring and satisfying, but it can also be exhausting. Effective advocacy often involves having to manage anger or frustration so communication doesn’t get shut down. Find ways to relieve stress, such as exercise, relaxation techniques or counselling.

9. Avoid burnout

  • Keep perspective. Remember that any one situation is almost always more than one person can tackle and that you can’t do everything.
  • Know and respect your limits. Everyone gets tired and needs downtime. Take breaks.
  • Expect to make mistakes – it’s part of being human.
  • Celebrate your victories and achievements.
Legal issues

Human rights

There are many legal issues that trans people face, from lack of accommodation at school to discrimination at work. If you feel that your human rights have been violated, you can file a complaint. Find more information on Trans Rights BC.

The Human Rights Complaint Process for Transgender People in BC (DOC): An Out/Law Legal Guide by barbara findlay QC will help you understand the process for filing a complaint.

If you would like a referral to a lawyer, please Contact Us.

Human resources

When an employee is transitioning at work, it can be challenging to know how to create the best possible plan. Here are some resources we recommend for employers, so you can ensure that you are not only following the law, but providing the best possible work environment for your employees.

Public Services and Procurement Canada

GIRES: Gender Identity Research and Education Society (UK)

Catalyst: Workplaces that work for women (US)

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