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Gender Mosaic celebrates 25 years

Ottawa trans support group has become more inclusive and political, president says

Gender Mosaic president Sophia Cassivi says the group's 25th anniversary is a celebration of all those who support the trans community, not just trans Canadians. Credit: Bradley Turcotte
As Ottawa’s trans support group Gender Mosaic (GM) prepares to celebrate its 25th anniversary this month, president Sophia Cassivi says the group now truly lives up to its name. From transgender people to drag queens, GM is open to everybody, she says, although for a long stretch of time, GM members were primarily white, mature crossdressers.

These days, 30 percent of GM’s members are under 30 years old, and 20 percent are transitioning from female to male, something Cassivi says is unprecedented. She credits, in part, GM’s social-media sister website, which, in recent years, has attracted a more diverse membership.

Cassivi first discovered GM just over a decade ago. At first, the information she acquired regarding the trans community was “overwhelming,” and she was fearful of being outed.

Rather than dive right into the group, she attended social gatherings held by Gender Metaphor, an offshoot of GM created as a result of a rift between members. Then, thanks to the welcoming attitude of Amanda Ryan and Samantha Perrin, she joined GM.

But although Cassivi revelled in the newfound support from GM, she was still outed by a jaded employee.

“Although I’m a very outgoing person, my personal life was very closeted. My wife and I and my kids were the only people who knew,” she says.

When Cassivi’s employee quit to create her own rival venture, the employee decided the best way to ensure her own success was to call all Cassivi’s clients and inform them that Cassivi is transgender.

“She was not very complimentary about it. I phoned every one of my customers and told them it was true that I was transgender,” Cassivi recalls. “I told them that if they were not comfortable with that, I would understand. All my customers said they respected my courage to make the call. I kept all my customers, and she lost her business.”

Since becoming president of GM in February 2011, Cassivi has helped revise the group’s bylaws,incorporated the group and has reached out to other trans groups in Canada and the US.

Now that GM is incorporated, the group will begin applying for grants and look into the possibility of sponsorship.

GM is also now officially bilingual and working with Gatineau police to create a liaison committee to educate Quebec police on the realities of being a trans Canadian.

“We did all the things other executives couldn’t do. We did sometimes have unpopular opinions, but we had a dirty job to do and we did it. I’m very proud. The group is healthier and more solid than ever,” Cassivi says.

But she is quick to remind that GM is not exclusively a vehicle for the agenda of the executive committee.

“The group is not all about the executive,” she says. “The executive is like a steering wheel and . . . the membership is the gas pedal feeding you. It should never be about one person. It should be about unity. It’s a collective effort.”

Although the group’s original goal was to offer social support, GM has recently begun lobbying politically, as well, something Cassivi says is a conscious decision.

Members of GM attended nearly every meeting or event regarding NDP MP Randall Garrison’s federal trans rights bill, C-279, and pushed hard to get Toby’s Act, Ontario’s trans rights bill, passed.

Garrison, Senator Grant Mitchell and Ottawa Police Chief Charles Bordeleau are all scheduled to attend GM’s May 29 anniversary reception. Cassivi credits GM secretary Rachelle Gauvin with organizing the anniversary and stresses that the event is not just for GM members, but for all friends and supporters of trans Canadians.

>”The anniversary is not only an anniversary,” she says. “We want to show that society is a blend of people; it’s not a celebration that’s only about transgender people. It’s about all the people showing support and love for us.”