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Human Rights Terms and Definitions HRCO
Human Rights Terms and Definitions

The order of the following human rights terms do not indicate a hierarchy or order of significance:


A socially constructed identity which refers to a group of people of common ancestry, distinguished by physical characteristics such as color of skin, shape of eyes, hair texture or facial features.


Lineage of people from whom one is descended.

Ethnic Origin

The culture individuals identify with and derive a common heritage or ancestry, or a shared historical past. Everyone is ethnic.


Practices, beliefs and observances that are part of an organized faith or religion. Religion/Creed is broadly accepted by the Ontario Human Rights Code (1990) to include non-deistic bodies of faith and spiritual practices.


The term Disability covers a broad range and degree of conditions, some visible and others not. A disability may have been present from birth, caused by an accident, or developed over time. It includes physical, mental, and learning disabilities, mental disorders, hearing or vision disabilities, epilepsy, drug and alcohol dependencies, environmental sensitivities, as well as other conditions.


Related to a person's biological sex, male or female.

Record of Offences

A conviction for an offence in which a pardon has been granted under the Criminal Records Act (1985) and has not been revoked.

Place of Origin

The country where a person was born.


Membership of an individual to the nation state.

Receipt of Public Assistance

The receipt of governmental provision of economic assistance available to people in need. For example in Canada, ‘Child and Family Benefits’ is an economic assistance provided by the government.

Sexual Orientation

Sexual Orientation refers to the range of human sexuality including gay, lesbian, bisexual and heterosexual orientations.


Refers to the skin color of a person, usually associated with race.

Family Status

Familial relations that involve care and commitment between parent and child.

Marital Status

The status of being single, widowed, married, divorced or separated and includes the status of living with a person in a conjugal relationship outside marriage.


Age is defined as being 18 years or older, or 16 years or older in housing if you have withdrawn from parental control. The term ‘ageism’, refers to a socially constructed way of thinking about a person’s age based on negative attitudes and stereotypes about aging and a tendency to structure society based on an assumption that everyone is young.

Gender Identity

Gender identity refers to an individual’s intrinsic sense of self and particularly, their inner sense of being male or female. An individual’s gender identity may or may not conform to their birth- assigned sex and may include transgender peoples, transsexual peoples, intersex peoples, crossdressers and trans peoples.

Gender Expression

Gender expression refers to the way in which an individual manifests their masculinity or femininity, through external characteristics such as hairstyles, clothing and speech. Gender expression is usually an extension of our gender identity.

Gender expression is generally defined as appearance and behaviours which are interpreted as inconsistent with one’s born and raised sex and/or gender.


A biological distinction referring to whether a person is female, male or intersexed (historically referred to as hermaphrodite).


Behaviour, personality, dress, choice of work, etc. that the dominant society traditionally attributes to, or associates with, biological sex.

Gender Identity

Gender identity is linked to an individual’s intrinsic sense of self and particularly the sense of being male or female. A person’s gender identity is fundamentally different from, and does not determine, their sexual orientation, which is also protected under the Code. A person’s gender identity may not conform to a person’s birth-assigned sex.


The prefix “cis” means “on the same side as.” So while people who are transgender move “across” genders, people who are cisgender remain on the same side of the gender they were initially identified as at birth.


Individuals who have a strong and persistent feeling that they are living in the wrong sex. Individuals who have undergone, or who want, sex-reassignment surgery may identify as transsexual. Persons who live in their self-identified gender and may have undergone hormonal transitions, but who do not wish to, or cannot, undergo surgery may also use the term. There are heterosexual, gay, lesbian, and bisexual transsexuals.

Cross-Dresser (Transvestite)

A person who on occasion deliberately dresses in clothes traditionally associated with the opposite sex, and takes on the behaviours, socially of the opposite sex. A person who cross-dresses does not desire to be the opposite sex, but is fulfilling other needs or desires.


MTF -  an  abbreviation for a male-to-female transsexual person
FTM  - an abbreviation for a female-to-male transsexual person
SRS  -  an abbreviation for Sexual Reassignment Surgery


Means to blend in and become unnoticeable and unremarkable as either a man or a woman. Blending in as normal means that one has succeeded and become a “real” man or woman and no longer a member of a stigmatized group. Passing is only problematic when it is not successful and someone is read (e.g. as a man in a dress or a woman in a man’s suit

Gender Identity Disorder

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM IV) defines gender identity “disorder” in which the individual experiences “a persistent sense of discomfort and inappropriateness about one’s anatomical sex and a persistent wish to be rid of one’s genitals and to live as a member of the opposite sex” (American Psychiatric Association, 1994)


Transphobia is the negative valuing and discriminatory treatment of individuals who do not conform in appearance and/or identity to conventional conceptions of gender. Lesbians, gay men, bisexuals, and transgendered (or trans-identified) individuals are typically the target of transphobia. As with heterosexism, transphobia can be personal or systemic, overt or covert, and intentional or unintentional.


People whose primary sexual, and/or emotional, spiritual and intellectual attraction is to a person of the same sex and who defines themselves as lesbian/gay.


A person who is sexually, and/or emotionally, spiritually and intellectually attracted to both men and women though not necessarily at the same time or in the same way.

Straight (Heterosexual)

A person whose primary sexual, and/or emotional, spiritual and intellectually attraction is to a person of the opposite sex and who defines themselves as straight.


An umbrella term that may include lesbians, gays, bisexuals, transgender people and others who challenge the heterosexist boundaries of sexual orientation, sex and gender. The term was historically used as an insult, but is now frequently used as an affirmative political and/or identity statement.

Two Spirited People

Refers to people who are Aboriginal/Native American, who identify as having distinctive sexualities and/or gender identities. It is used by many contemporary gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender Aboriginal/Native American people as a more culturally appropriate term to describe themselves. The term also encompasses the spiritual, along with the physical, emotional and cultural aspects.
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