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  • Photograph by transaid

Removing barriers one step at a time

Human rights have so much to do with health and wellness at both individual and community levels. The ability to defend one's rights on the basis of Gender Identity is no exception. In honour of International Human Rights Day, Saskatoon activist and artist Miki Mappin tells her story of working toward equal rights for transgender-identified people in the province of Saskatchewan. 

"There are many issues impacting transgender people that have serious implications for our health; caused by intolerance, discrimination in housing, employment, education and in accessing health care. We felt that if we could get explicit human rights protection under the Code, it would be the most important first step to removing the barriers against transgender people leading healthy and productive lives."

In 2011 I went to the Saskatchewan Human Rights Commission in Saskatoon, to ask for protection from discrimination. 

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I had been terminated ‘without cause’ from a provincially funded cultural institution, where I had worked from 1986 until 2011. In 2011 I had come out as transgender, and with the permission of the director had begun wearing female clothing to work. This led to difficulties and harassment from other employees. A new director, after consulting with legal counsel, decided to terminate my employment and offer me compensation. 

At the Saskatchewan Human Rights Commission I was told that I could not file a complaint based on discrimination because of my gender expression. I had to choose one of the grounds listed in the act

At the Saskatchewan Human Rights Commission I was told that I could not file a complaint based on discrimination because of my gender expression. I had to choose one of the grounds listed in the act; either the grounds of sexual orientation, or the grounds of sex, or of illness. I did not have evidence that the harassment and discrimination I had suffered were based on any of these grounds. I was told that any complaint I submitted would have no chance of legal redress. I hired a lawyer, who agreed with this assessment, and so with great reluctance I accepted the compensation offered for my unjust dismissal. 

I was ill. I had a nervous breakdown as a result of trauma from incidents that had taken place. My spouse decided we should separate, and I had to find a new place to live, without my family. I had thoughts of suicide. Unlike the majority of transgender people in the province I was lucky. I was accepted by the only psychiatrist specialized in gender issues, who happened to practice in Saskatoon. I was referred to the only specialist in hormone replacement therapy, also practicing in Saskatoon.

Later, after I had begun the process of healing and recovering, I began to feel the need to do something to make up for not having had the strength to fight for my rights, and to ensure that future generations of transgender people could be protected. 

Later, after I had begun the process of healing and recovering, I began to feel the need to do something to make up for not having had the strength to fight for my rights, and to ensure that future generations of transgender people could be protected. I became involved with TransSask Support Services Inc., begun several years earlier by Mikayla Schultz and run by volunteers. There are many issues impacting transgender people that have serious implications for our health; caused by intolerance, discrimination in housing, employment, education and in accessing health care. We felt that if we could get explicit human rights protection under the Code, it would be the most important first step to removing the barriers against transgender people leading healthy and productive lives.

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photo by metro news 

By 2013 the Human Rights Commission had produced documents clarifying that cases of discrimination based on gender identity could be brought under the grounds of sex. A case of discrimination by a Saskatoon bridal shop against a local woman catalyzed me to help organize a demonstration. I then helped the woman file a complaint, which was settled through mediation, unfortunately not creating any legal precedent. A petition to include gender expression and identity had been begun by TransSask in early 2013, and I joined in, helping to gather signatures. The cause was taken up by a coalition of organizations and individuals under the name of Time 4 Rights, spearheaded by the Gender Equality Society of Saskatchewan which I helped form to coordinate transgender activism in the province. In November of 2013 the petition, with almost 1000 signatures, was presented by MLA David Forbes of the NDP in the legislature, but was refused by the Sask Party under Brad Wall.

The transgender flag was flown for a week at the Saskatoon City Hall

In 2014 the Time 4 Rights campaign was intensified, through social media and by extensive organizing leading up to a coordinated series of events for Transgender Awareness Week at the beginning of April. The week was formally proclaimed by the mayors of 20 Saskatchewan cities and by the Saskatchewan Legislature. The transgender flag was flown for a week at the Saskatoon City Hall. Beginning with a panel discussion in Saskatoon including politicians, transgender representatives and the Chief Commissioner for Human Rights, it included events in several cities, and culminated with a demonstration on the steps of the Legislature in Regina. Since that time, I have held meetings with 3 members of the provincial cabinet, beginning with the Minister of Justice, Gordon Wyant.

Gender changes to Saskatchewan birth certificates, on Sask Health cards, and on the driver’s licence still require sterilizing surgeries, something not wanted by all transitioning individuals, and which has been found in other jurisdictions to be a violation of human rights. Two complaints were brought against Sask Health, responsible for vital statistics, to the Saskatchewan Human Rights Commission in 2013 and 2014. These cases encouraged discussions between the Ministry of Health, the Ministry of Justice, the Chief Commissioner for human rights and with transgender individuals and advocacy organizations.

This past Tuesday, December 2, the Minister of Justice Gord Wyant called me. That morning he had introduced legislation to have gender identity included in the Saskatchewan Code of Human Rights! Many people have worked hard on this. Some, such as Mikayla Skye Schultz, had to step aside because of health issues, burnt out by her sacrifices and the struggle against poverty and lack of acceptance. Others nearly gave in to despair. We were helped at critical moments by allies. I am immensely thankful to all who dedicated time and effort.

there is much work remaining to be done but we hope that having gender identity explicitly protected will send a strong message that will help to remove the barriers preventing transgender people from obtaining employment, housing, education and health care

While this is an important first step, there is much work remaining to be done. Talks have begun with the Ministry of Health, and the Ministry of Social Services. The category of gender identity doesn’t cover all who are gender diverse, and eventually the code will have to be revised to include gender expression. We hope, however, that having gender identity explicitly protected will send a strong message that will help to remove the barriers preventing transgender people from obtaining employment, housing, education and health care. This will allow many more of us to become strong and healthy contributors to society.


Miki Mappin has had several careers; as a sculptor, a scenic artist, a theatre consultant and an exhibits designer. In recent years her passion has been performing contemporary dance, social activism and increasingly, writing. You can find out more about Miki at mikimappin.com.

 

On Dec. 8th, Bill 171 was passed, and the Human Rights Code was officially amended.

 

Upstream would like to congratulate all of the organizations, individuals and allies who contributed to this important step forward.

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