Discussing Visibility, Advocacy and Trans* Rights in Saskatchewan with Mikayla Schultz

Mikayla Schultz, a self-identified transfeminine genderqueer/woman, is the founder and current president of TransSask Support Services Inc., Saskatchewan’s province wide support and resource network for Trans* -identified, genderqueer, intersex and gender non-conforming individuals, their spouses, family, friends and allies.
She is currently hard a work attaining proclamations for Trans* Awareness Week from all across the province. Her efforts have so far led to proclamations coming in from 8-cities including the of Estevan, Humbolt, Melfort, Moose Jaw, North Battleford, Prince Albert, Saskatoon and Yorkton, as well as from Gordon S. Wyant, the Minister of Justice and Attorney General in SK. Trans* Awareness Week is now running all across the province with a number of events.
She is also the founding director of the Gender Equality Society of Saskatchewan, which is currently leading the Time 4 Rights campaign for the explicit protection of “gender identity” and “gender expression” in the Saskatchewan Human Rights Code. Mikayla co-hosts Gender Talk Saskatchewan on CJTR 91.3 FM in Regina as well.
Mikayla Skye Schultz
Kevlar: Just how protected or unprotected are individuals in Saskatchewan when it comes to discrimination against their gender identity and/or gender expression?

MIKAYLA: Trans* people find human rights protection in Saskatchewan under the category sex. Canadian Case Law provides definition that a transsexual person under the care of a health professional and in the process of transitioning to their target sex are protected under human rights law under the category of sex.

Most legal and governmental agencies seem to have a narrow understanding of the Trans* Community and often assume that all trans* people within the sex and gender diverse umbrella are transitioning transsexuals. Unfortunately, this narrow-mindedness leaves out a broad spectrum of people who identify as transgender, genderqueer, genderfluid, pangender, etc. Currently, the Saskatchewan Human Rights Commission has expressed that they will “read in” (that is, interpret sex as including) gender identity and gender expression.

Only legislated changes to the Code, or definitions provided by a court, can offer explicit protection (there are no courts in Canada that have ruled in favour of sex specifically including the terms gender identity or gender expression). Reading in implied definitions only provides implied protection, and those interpretations are only held by those who are willing to hold them. The next Chief Commissioner might say, gender identity and gender expression are not defined by sex.

KEVLAR: What is the Time 4 Rights campaign and why is it important for Saskatchewan?

MIKAYLA: #Time4Rights is a campaign asking the Government of Saskatchewan to provide human rights protection to all citizens of the province (not just trans* people) by adding the terms gender identity and gender expression as protected grounds to the Saskatchewan Human Rights Code.

The campaign has several components, with more being added all the time, but the main efforts are a letter writing campaign to Premier Brad Wall and Justice Minister Gordon Wyant asking for explicit protection through adding gender identity and gender expression to the Code, and the other part is a social media campaign where citizens in support of human rights can upload a selfie (self portrait) of themselves supporting the #Time4Rights campaign to Facebook, Twitter, tumblr or Instagram.

KEVLAR: Many Trans* individuals live in silence out of fear of losing their jobs, being ostracized by their families or communities and/or becoming the target of verbal and emotional abuse as well as physical violence. How real of a danger is this sort of thing in Saskatchewan?

MIKAYLA: Although there seems to exist a lot of ignorance about trans* people in Saskatchewan, it is surprising just how much people are willing to learn. There is more and more positive portrayals of trans* people in popular media (where before there wasn’t), and our culture is heavily influenced by this, television, internet, etc.

Many people are becoming aware of the marginalization and discrimination that trans* people face, and are taking actions to address it. TransSask is contacted daily by organizations and individuals seeking out information about the trans* community. We are our worst enemies; often trans* people internalize unfounded fears of how other people will perceive us, whether they will accept us or not. Time and time again, I find trans* folk are pleasantly surprised by the amount of acceptance they find around them.

However, there will exist people who are opposed to who we are, but those people will always exist (just as there will always be people who are motivated by racism), and often they just don’t want to learn. All trans* people will encounter others who make negative remarks, express negative attitudes. This best way to combat this is to just continue on, pay them no mind. People like this only look for affirmation of their actions, either through support of like-minded individuals, or through negative reinforcements (like responding with similar name calling). If we don’t enable these individuals, then they won’t be inclined to express such negative sentiments. As support of the trans* community continues to grow, these negative ideals will be suppressed in our culture.

KEVLAR: What sort of resources are there available in Saskatchewan for individuals who may feel terrified, alone, depressed and anxious in regards to their gender identity or gender expression?

MIKAYLA: If you are in a situation where you are afraid or terrified, for any length of time, get out of there! No one should have to go through life living in fear. If you are in a situation that is potentially hostile or dangerous, contact emergency services (like calling 911).

Anyone, who, for whatever reason, is experiencing anxiety or feelings of depression, whether you are trans* or not, should seek out support through mental health services. Most larger communities will have this service available, or at least one or two psychologists or registered therapists.

As much as solitude is nice once and a while, humans are not solitary beings. If you are feeling alone, find someone to talk to. You can go out for a walk in your community, call a friend, or find a forum to communicate online. Through TransSask, we have always believed that first and foremost in anyone’s exploration of their gender, whether you are transitioning or not, you should have a good network of support. This includes supportive family members and/or close friends, professional support like therapists and psychologists, medical support through a good family doctor, and most importantly peer support (a group of people going through the same experiences).

In Saskatchewan, there are many LGBT organizations and support groups, and TransSask works with many of them to provide information in support of trans* folk. If you can not find local information or support, contact TransSask through their website at http://www.transsask.org.

KEVLAR: What are some ways that individuals can start to make a difference in their own community if they wish to do so?

MIKAYLA: The two most important keys to making a difference that I have found through my own advocacy is education and visibility. One of the most common responses I get when approaching service providers is, we don’t see trans* people. Visibility is key to this, however it is also understandable that many fear being out in their community. Kind of a catch 22.

When I first came out, I started out small. I bought a pair of pink shoelaces for my shoes. People asked pressing questions, some even teased me, but over a couple of weeks all was forgotten and life went on as normal. After a while I replaced my pink-laced shoes and bought new shoes… pink ones. When asked why I would buy pink shoes, I said, you teased me for having pink shoelaces, and see, these have white ones. After a while, all was then again back to normal.

Each stage of coming out, people had questions. This is natural, people are curious. As you become more visible, this provides opportunity for education. You can also educate people by providing workshops or information sessions. You don’t have to be out as trans* to do this, as there are many allies around Saskatchewan who educate others about trans* identities and issues faced by the trans* community.

KEVLAR: Are there any reputable online support groups or resource sites for the Trans* community that are widely considered to be safe, good sources of advice and/or guidance?

MIKAYLA: There are literally millions of websites about the trans* community, and it is hard to say anyone of them stands above the rest. The best websites would be those that are supported by local trans* groups, and which provide information specific to your location. This is important, because the information you are seeking is often different from one location to another, different service providers, different medical guidelines, even different language used to describe people and experiences. In Saskatchewan, you can contact TransSask for information on groups and services in your area. If someone is seeking for more information on any one topic, I always advise them to use Google. Research and learning how to find information is important in self advocacy. Remember, there is no one single authority on the topic you are researching. There are many people out there with many opinions, often times with very little empirical evidence backing them up. Be critical of all information you find, even if it appears to come from a reputable website or organization.

KEVLAR: With the Day of Trans* Visibility coming up on March 31, I have seen much discussion and debate about the need for transgendered, gender non-conforming and transsexual people to be out in the open fighting for acceptance, understanding and change. How important do you personally feel Trans* visibility is?

MIKAYLA: I’ve always thought the single most important part of my advocacy work is my visibility, my being out in the community. As part of my own coming out process, I contacted the local daily newspaper and had them do an article about my coming out. For those who didn’t know I was trans*, this is how they found out. People are not going to question the beliefs they hold of gender stereotypes and gender norms if those beliefs are never challenged.

If you want to change people’s ideals about gender, you have to challenge their perceptions. Being public, and being visible in your community does this. However, with visibility comes much responsibility, especially if you are the only one out in your community, or one of only a few. Many people will come to you as their single source of information. Depending on how much you put yourself out there, this can be time consuming.

KEVLAR: What advice would you offer to any individual who was considering coming out as Trans* in terms of questions to ask yourself before you act, what to expect, do’s and don’ts, etc.?

MIKAYLA: I think one important question to ask yourself is are you in a safe situation where you can come out as trans*? Do you have room mates or family that will make your living situation difficult, and if so, do you have options to find yourself different accommodations (a friend or accepting family member)?

Another very important question to ask yourself is what are the gender stereotypes you have of men, women, and trans* people, what are the gender norms you have learned from your community, and where does this all come from? Just because they are gender norms doesn’t mean they are right (women must be homemakers). Just being trans*, you challenge most gender norms, but if you are, say transitioning, do you have expectations of attaining to unrealistic stereotypes (often perpetuated by popular media), or are you being true to your authentic self?

One thing many people who are transitioning must realize is that many of the treatments you will engage in are not reversible. You have to be absolutely sure about yourself. Just because society tells you that having a vagina means you are a woman, does not mean all women must have vaginas.

KEVLAR: On a whole, would you say that progress has been made in recent years in regards to Trans* rights, protection and awareness?

MIKAYLA: In Saskatchewan, in the last 5 years, definitely there has been great achievements in the awareness of the trans* community. There are now at least a dozen good, fairly well known, trans* advocates in Saskatchewan, all fighting to change things for future trans* people. We have seen things in Saskatchewan we have never seen before, a discussion of trans* rights in the provincial Legislature, the first trans* flag flown in a major Saskatchewan city, and the first major effort towards changing laws in support of trans* people. We may have a bit to go on trans* rights, access to health care, employment, housing, etc., but we will get there.

1. Does the Human Rights Code in your area protect gender identity and expression?
2. Based on today’s interview, and yesterday’s with Ms. Dr. Joseph L. Simonis, how import do YOU feel it is for leagues to develop detailed inclusion policies and/or an action plan for dealing with all forms of discrimination at derby events?

Catch up on our previous Trans* Awareness in Sports Week by checking out the posting schedule to see what has already been discussed and what is still to come!

Kevlar 2Written by Kevin ‘Kevlar’ Dennison
Tomorrow we’ll be having another hard conversation…