Trans man pushes for human rights changes

Chase Blodgett of Whitehorse calls it the pronoun dance. There are all sorts of varieties. "It's my absolute favourite dance, though," he said.

Chase Blodgett of Whitehorse calls it the pronoun dance. There are all sorts of varieties.

“It’s my absolute favourite dance, though,” he said.

“The uncomfortable tango of my life is that awkward dance around using no pronouns at all and asking me a series of questions with the objective of ascertaining whether I am an estrogen- or testosterone-based organism.”

That could mean asking if he’s single (hoping he’ll mention a girlfriend/boyfriend) or asking about what hockey league he plays in.

He says he was once ID’d at a party, under the pretense of checking his age, because of a group of men who couldn’t deal with not knowing his gender.

“Those are the kinds of experiences that threaten my dignity as a human being. Those are the kinds of experiences that accumulate on the heavy days,” he said during a public talk last week.

* * *

Blodgett, 29, is a transgendered man. For trans people, their gender identity – their internal sense of being a man or a woman – doesn’t match their biological sex.

He’s part of a group of people gathering signatures on a petition to add protections for gender identity and gender expression to the Yukon Human Rights Act.

A motion to make the change is slated to come up in the spring legislative sitting.

In Canada at least seven jurisdictions either have gender identity written directly into their human rights legislation or have expressly stated trans people are covered under other parts of the law.

Blodgett said it’s important for the public to understand the issue of gender identity and human rights.

No one fits precisely into society’s idea of what it means to be a man or a woman, he said.

Most people he knows have felt shamed or humiliated for picking up a characteristic that is considered to be from the opposite gender.

Maybe that’s a young boy who likes to figure skate, he said.

“It’s about tomboys and having the right to play hockey if there’s no girls league, to play in the boys league,” he said.

“It’s about everyone’s rights because gender isn’t an exclusively trans matter. It’s a human matter.”

When it comes up in the legislature, the motion to change the law will be coming out of Lois Mooorcroft’s office.

The NDP’s justice critic is also a former member of the Yukon Human Rights Commission.

“We know that trans people do face discrimination and there’s a need to recognize their human rights and move them forward,” Moorcroft said.

One study found that while 71 per cent of trans people in Ontario have at least some college or university education, about half make $15,000 per year or less.

According to the Canadian Mental Health Association 77 per cent of trans people in Ontario had seriously considered suicide and 45 per cent had attempted suicide.

* * *

A similar federal bill that would see gender identity written into the Canadian Human Rights Act passed the House of Commons but has been delayed since March of 2013 in the Senate.

This isn’t the first time that the issue of amending the Yukon Human Rights Act to include gender identity has come up.

On April 9, 2008, the Select Committee on Human Rights was established by the legislative assembly.

That committee – which included members from all three political parties – travelled around the territory holding public hearings on what kind of changes to the act were needed.

The issue of trans protection came up then, said Yukon Human Rights Commission executive director Heather MacFadgen.

The commission made the recommendation that the protection of trans people be added to the act.

“As understanding of the full range of human sexuality and gender identity increases, it has become clear that discrimination can occur in ways not well understood at the time the act was first passed,” the commission said at the time.

In the end, the issue of transgender protection never made it into the select committee’s final report, and the issue fell off the political radar.

MacFadgen said the commission fully supports making this amendment to the act.

* * *

According to Blodgett, most trans people in the Yukon end up leaving the territory for what doctors call sex reassignment surgery. He prefers to call it transition.

Leaving is not something he wants to do.

“This is my community and this is my home and I want to stay here and be in my community immersed in the supports I’ve built up over the years, and transition here.”

Blodgett first started coming out to friends and trying on male pronouns in November last year. He came out publicly through a YouTube video this September and uses his online platform to educate people as much as possible.

“It was an incredibly terrifying and vulnerable process,” he said.

He said his Yukon community has been very loving and supportive.

But transitioning in the Yukon has presented its own unique set of challenges.

Blodgett has been taking male hormones for the last three weeks. He wants to get surgery, including a double mastectomy, nipple graph and male chest contouring.

But those surgeries aren’t covered by insurance here.

Yukon policies identify trans people as having the medical diagnosis of gender identity disorder.

Things like hormones are covered here.

If a person meets certain requirements, including living in their chosen gender for a year and seeing a psychiatrist, Yukon health insurance will cover surgeries below the waist, but not above.

The majority of trans people transitioning from female to male will not have “bottom” surgery, Blodgett said. But top surgery is important to feel like himself.

When his doctor explained the situation to the insurance branch and asked if they would cover his surgeries, the branch first denied the request saying the surgery was cosmetic and later “they came back and said ‘well, probably,’” Blodgett said.

So now he sits on a waitlist for surgery in B.C. It’s usually about 18 to 22 months long.

“So I’m on that waitlist and I won’t find out if Insured Health is going to cover my travel or the cost of that procedure until I have a date set up and we put through the request,” Blodgett said.

The Health Department is going though a review of its policies to make sure the Yukon lines up with other places, spokesperson Pat Living said.

There’s no word on when that will be completed.

* * *

So Blodgett waits and the hormones have started to take effect.

He’s been lucky – he’s found a doctor who is willing to see him. He’s heard stories of other trans people in the territory being dumped by their doctor when they start the transition.

Without any protection under the law, there wasn’t much those patients could do.

If he could afford it, he would go get the surgery done tomorrow, he said.

The requirement to live as a male before surgery means more than just changing his clothes, name and pronouns.

“The hormones are going to masculinize me. I’m going to get facial hair. I’m going to be physically a lot more masculine then I already am. Then I’m going to have a female chest,” he said.

“I still have to use men’s washrooms and men’s change rooms, or avoid them all together. It’s a delicate dance and it could potentially be unsafe in certain situations. It puts you in a sticky situation. You have to be aware of what you’re doing all the time.”

He hopes changes to the Yukon Human Rights Act go through without a hitch.

“I’m hoping this will be a classic Yukon case of ‘No one thought to mention it, so we didn’t know,’ and everyone’s like ‘That makes perfect sense, “check.”’”

Contact Ashley Joannou at

ashleyj@yukon-news.com

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