Three days after the federal government apologized to the LGBTQ2 community for systemic, state-sanctioned discrimination, a Yukon transgender activist has come forward with his allegation that he was released from a Yukon government job for being trans.
Chase Blodgett is a transgender man, educator and consultant living and working in the Yukon.
He told the Star Thursday morning he believes he was released from his job with the Department of Health and Social Services in 2016 because he is transgender.
According to Blodgett, his employer instructed him to keep his trans status a secret.
He was to present as a cis male – a man who was born a male, and identifies as such – which Blodgett is not.
“I was in all these difficult positions,” he explained.
He was sometimes unable to follow through on a supervisor’s instructions because doing so would potentially reveal his sex.
He also said his supervisor took to sending newspaper articles about Blodgett to the manager of his department.
Upon returning from medical leave in February 2016, Blodgett said he was called into a meeting. There, “several false allegations were made,” and he was released from his job.
He was unable to provide further details to the Star at this point, as he’s currently involved in a grievance process with his union over the dismissal.
After waiting for nearly two years, Blodgett said, he learned an adjudication hearing has been set for February 2018.
The Yukon Party – governing in February 2016 – provided a statement to the Star Thursday evening.
“Personnel decisions within the public service are not made at the political level.
“That being said, the Yukon Party official Opposition condemns any instances of discrimination in the workplace, including discrimination based on sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression.”
Nigel Allan is a spokesperson for the Public Service Commission. He said in an email to the Star that “as an employer, we’re committed to building and supporting a more diverse, inclusive, engaged workforce and respectful workplace for all employees.”
Allan pointed to a number of policies that prohibit discrimination against employees on a number of grounds, including transgender identity.
Blodgett told the Star he has never spoken publicly about the circumstances surrounding his dismissal.
“It feels like maybe it’s time,” he said. “The realities in Yukon are that systemic discrimination is very, very present and very prevalent in the lives of (trans) folks.”
The Yukon Liberal Party platform contains a promise to “conduct a legislative, policy and practice review to ensure the Yukon Government meets rules and social standards for LGBTQ non-discrimination.”
According to cabinet spokesperson Janine Workman, that review is currently underway.
The Liberal government also amended the Human Rights Act last spring to make it illegal to discriminate against a person based on their gender identity and expression.
And that’s particularly important because, as Blodgett pointed out, it’s not just in the workplace where transgender people are confronted with discrimination.
There are many spaces, from hospitals and doctors’ offices to gym locker rooms, where he said trans people face barriers – and even threats – to their health and safety.
“The apology is a great start,” Blodgett said.
That’s especially true for those LGBTQ2 people who were victimized in what is being called “the gay purge”, he said – a systemic, decades-long effort by the federal government and its agencies to investigate and potentially eliminate from the workforce people of non-heterosexual orientation.
However, Blodgett said, action still needs to be taken to further protect and foster the rights of the LGBTQ2 community. Especially the transgender group, for whom progress may be slower than for people who identify as gay or lesbian.
To demonstrate the discrepancy in attitude toward trans people, he pointed out that gender dysphoria – conflict between a person’s physical sex and the gender that person identifies with – is still a mental disorder listed in the most recent edition of the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM).
Homosexuality was removed from the DSM in 1973.
“Why is it that we recognize sexuality but not all genders?” Blodgett asked.
Stephanie Hammond, an organizer with Queer Yukon, also noted that transgender people are a group within the LGBTQ2 community that faces significant challenges.
“I know that, or I have heard that people in the trans community do not feel supported, do not feel like they have the same rights as everyone else, and in fact often do not have the same rights.”
According to Hammond, the federal government’s historic apology presents an opportunity for reckoning.
“I can appreciate that change, big change, can be slow.
“But I think we need to acknowledge that we missed the boat in the past on embracing that change, and we need to do it faster and better to make sure that we’re not repeating those same mistakes from history.”