Bullying report ignores transgender concerns, opposition critic and TransSask president agree
Students display 'Bully-free zone' posters in this CTV file photo.
The provincial government’s recent anti-bullying report risks alienating Saskatchewan’s transgender youth, says a prominent leader in Saskatchewan’s transgender community.
Mikayla Schultz, director of the Gender Equality Society of Saskatchewan and president of TransSask Support Services, worries language used in the province’s anti-bullying action plan could reinforce misconceptions that cause transgender people to feel excluded.
“It shows a lack of knowledge or education that the provincial government may have in terms of transgender issues,” Schultz says.
She points out that both times the government refers to transgender people in their 32-page report, they use the term ‘transgendered’ — transgender is an adjective, not a verb, Schultz argues.
“No one is ever ‘transgendered’ or ‘manned’ or ‘womanned.’”
NDP opposition critic David Forbes says the province missed a great opportunity in its action plan to push for legislation banning discrimination based on gender identity and gender expression.
“Right now in our human rights code, sex and sexual orientation are prohibited grounds,” Forbes says. Gender identity is not protected.
Several provinces including Ontario, Manitoba, Nova Scotia and Newfoundland, as well as the Northwest Territories, recently amended their human rights acts to guarantee gender identity and expression are protected from discrimination. Saskatchewan has not changed its legislation.
“We think the report has the responsibility to lay out some concrete actions,” Forbes says. “We think they should be mandating education around sexual diversity, which includes sexual orientation and transgender issues.”
Schultz argues the report’s recommendation to support gay-straight alliances excludes transgender youth.
“I’ve really been fighting this gay-straight alliance idea. I’ve been pushing groups to change the name to something like Rainbow Alliance.”
She says, especially in terms of bullying, people often confuse sexual orientation with gender expression.
"A lot of scenarios of bullying in our schools are a result of one's expressions of gender. [Those scenarios] can come long before anyone has explored their sexual orientation," Schultz points out. "At aged seven or eight or nine, [many kids who are bullied] are called 'gay' or 'lesbian' because those are the only terms they know."
She agrees schools need to do a better job teaching their students about gender issues.
“If people aren’t educated on the diversity of gender, those opportunities for bullying are still going to exist,” Schultz says.