Transgender student claims he was unfairly expelled from university’s
social work ACCESS program
Damien Leggett, a transgender student who feels he was discriminated
against by the University of Manitoba, has filed a human rights
complaint against the school. The Manitoba Human Rights Commission is
conducting an investigation into the incident.
In his first year, Leggett joined the Inner City Social Work ACCESS
Program. The program is devised to give assistance to those facing
difficulties accessing post-secondary education. He was a single
parent living on social assistance, had obtained a grade nine
education, and was in the process of undergoing a gender change.
Transgender individuals are often targets of discrimination, and
Leggett felt this occurring from his first day. He abstained from
eating so that he could skip going to the washroom. He was granted
access to the staff bathroom after several failed attempts.
Later, he began having issues with both professors and students.
Leggett told CBC News that one professor continued to call him a “she”
although he repeatedly asked her to stop. The professor reportedly
responded by saying that her brain was unable to process him as a male
while he still looked female.
Leggett found it offensive that the professor couldn’t remember which
pronoun to use. The professor allegedly suggested it would be easier
if Leggett had a moustache.
According to Leggett, students brought a fake moustache to class and
asked him to draw a picture of his genitals.
Members of Leggett’s class created a Facebook page to make babysitting
plans among students, but the page was also used as a place to vent
about issues with class. Leggett was assumed to be the leader of the
page. He was eventually kicked out of the program on the grounds that
he had made comments regarding another student that were unacceptable.
Leggett’s response was that he was unfairly targeted based on the fact
that he is transgender. When the U of M invited him back, he had
already moved to a new program.
Professor Pat Hrabok witnessed the situation and found it difficult to
watch one of her students face discrimination despite the program’s
intent of being a safe haven for individuals who have been
Maria Kari, a law student at the U of M, has worked in the human
rights field for seven years. Kari suggested that Leggett’s situation
fits into the parameters of a human rights complaint.
“Unfortunately, in Canada, transsexual/ transgendered/ gender-variant
individuals have faced and continue to face a tremendous amount of
discrimination. Statistics consistently show that these individuals
continue to exist on the margins of society and are one of the most
vulnerable groups of people facing not just discrimination on the
basis of their gender identity but also other forms of social and
economic discrimination,” said Kari.
The House of Commons passed a bill this year that rules it illegal to
discriminate against transgendered people.
The U of M has declined to comment on the complaint to media outlets.
The school’s policy on workplace harassment, a document entitled
“Respectful Work and Learning Environment,” was adopted in Jan. 2009
and revised in Jan. 2012.
That document outlines the protocol for dealing with instances of
harassment. The policy states: “harassment and discrimination violate
an individual’s human rights and run contrary to the university’s
fundamental values. The University of Manitoba will act promptly and
efficiently to deal with these behaviours.”
Kari advised several changes within the university.
She suggested gender-neutral washrooms, which already exist at some U
of M locations. She also stated that the university should reach out
to minority groups, such as transgendered people, and provide
educational resources on marginalized groups where necessary.
“Failure to do so not only limits opportunities for individuals like
Leggett, but also stifles the environment at U of M as a whole because
we are then faced with highly valuable, skilled, and intelligent
individuals moving away from our campus to other places where they are
more likely to feel valued, respected, and safe. Leggett’s story is a
perfect example of that,” said Kari.
The Manitoban (University of Manitoba), MB, Canada
Posted in News by Alycia Rodrigues on July 22, 2013