2 min

Trans issues take over

Labour reps want to be supportive

Trans issues took over last month’s nationwide Pride And Solidarity labour conference.

“We wanted it to be [the] central discussion,” says Sue Genge, the Canadian Labour Congress’s national rep for women and human rights. “It’s a new area for labour and we developed the paper over the last year, based on a number of consultations we’ve done with trans people.”

Genge says union reactions to queer issues are mixed. “The leadership is supportive, which really helps reconciling workers, but the CLC represents 2.3 million unionized workers in the country [and] homophobia is alive and well in the labour movement.

“Generally [the workers] understand that for trade unions to defend them, we all have to work together. There’s a solidarity sentiment,” says Genge. “The slogan we use is, ‘An injury to one is an injury to all.'”

About 170 people attended the Jun 24 to 27 queer labour conference, held at the University Of British Columbia.

Transgendered labour activists say education is key to better conditions for trans people in the workplace.

Gail Owen, with the Public Service Alliance Of Canada, was the first to declare her trans identity at the first-ever Pride And Solidarity Conference in 1997. She says the response these days is often overwhelmingly positive. “Hugs from everybody, hugs, hugs, hugs, hugs.”

Owen has seen attitudes shift after training that promotes mutual respect and understanding. “In one of the cases, the [trans] person was a truck driver for the federal government,” recalls Owen. “Once she changed and grew her fingernails a bit longer, all of her co-workers came to her support. Instead of loading and unloading her own truck, now they do it for her.”

Adds Owen: “There’s still lots of hate out there, I can go through hundreds of horror stories.”

In 1995, Leslie Ferris was reprimanded (and eventually resigned) after an anonymous complaint about her using the women’s washroom. Local 15 (in Victoria, BC) of the Office And Technical Employees Union was eventually found to have dealt with the situation inappropriately and was ordered to pay Ferris $6,000 by a BC Human Rights Tribunal in 1999.

“Teachers [also] have a hard time right now,” Owen adds. “They get fired because parents see them as sexually deviant.”

She says children are often much more accepting than their parents.

Trish Salah, a unionized transsexual teaching assistant at York University, says many are asking for more education. “This is understandable, but also a bit frustrating,” says Salah, who represented her union at the conference. “Because education is an endless process, it needs to go hand-in-hand with structural and policy changes.”

The Canadian Union Of Public Employees local for teaching assistants and part-time faculty recently negotiated Transsexual Transition Leave. Workers are entitled to up to eight weeks off, paid, for their transition.