Saskatoon

Moms of trans kids use men's washrooms to push legislation

The mothers of two transgender children in Saskatoon are pushing for gender neutral washrooms, education and political change.

A pair of mothers of transgender children in Saskatoon say gender neutral washrooms are needed

Megan Cheesbrough and Fran Forsberg in a mens' washroom. (Madeline Kotzer/CBC News)

A pair of mothers in Saskatoon are using the men's washroom to make their point.

Megan Cheesbrough and Fran Forsberg are both parents of transgender kids. They are working together to push for more education when it comes to the rights of transgender people, including their children.

The women take issue with particular proposed amendments to a piece of federal legislation.

As of early March, Bill C-279 is awaiting the outcome of a Senate committee report consideration.

This private member's bill is seeking to change current federal laws in order to introduce gender identity to the Human Rights Code of Canada. The bill passed its first two readings and went to committee, at which point Senator Donald Plett introduced amendments.

"[The amendments] exempt federal spaces from being bound by legislation," said Cheesbrough. "His rationale was that he wanted women's shelters or women's bathrooms and change rooms to be able to exclude trans women where they feel it is an issue of safety."

Cheesbrough argued that Pletts' proposed amendments discriminate against transgender people.

In order to stand up for our trans children, we are here to pee in the opposite gender's bathroom- Megan Cheesbrough

"[That] is ridiculous because you can't exclude an entire group of people for safety, that's what bigotry looks like," she said. "So, in order to stand up for our trans children, we are here to pee in the opposite gender's bathroom and make that statement that if our children are going to be forced into the wrong bathroom, then we're going in there to make it a safer space for them."

According to Cheesbrough, the bill's sponsor, Senator Grant Mitchell, e-mailed a statement to bill supporters recently that states the bill is now at "report stage" in the Senate and undergoing debate. In the statement, Mitchell says he introduced an amendment that would remove the "bathroom amendment," which was adopted during the committee stage.

"I believe that this amendment is inherently discriminatory and have urged my colleagues to vote in favour of passing Bill C-279 without this 'bathroom amendment," Mitchell states.

Forsberg and Cheesbrough. (Madeline Kotzer/CBC News)
Fran Forsberg referred to Pletts' three amendments as an attempt to turn the legislation into a "bathroom bill," which would damage the rights of peoples like her transgender daughter.

"There's nothing that's wrong with my daughter," Forsberg said. "Senator Plett needs to educate himself about transgender people, altogether, because he obviously is not educated in that area and to me, in this day and age, there is no excuse for that kind of ignorance."

Forsberg sees her work as part of a civil rights movement and likens the issue of legislating the prohibition of a transgender person in a washroom or shelter to keeping someone out of a washroom because of their race.

"People confuse gender with somebody's sexuality. And gender is how you present to society. Senator Plett doesn't understand this," she said.

Not a 'bathroom bill'

Senator Donald Plett. (Senator Donald Plett)

Senator Plett returned CBC's call on Saturday to respond to the mothers' criticism.

He said he does not think he is being treated fairly in the debate and views himself as a champion of transgender rights.

"I really want to emphasize that I believe we need to represent all members of society, including the transgender community," he said.

"The fact of the matter is I have been entirely supportive of their argument when it comes to employment and when it comes to housing, which they told me was their biggest concern. The transgender community has come miles from where they were and largely because of my work on this particular bill."

Plett explained that his three amendments seek to protect the rights of women as well as those of transgender women.

He also stated that the particular amendment in the debate would not impact larger society as many federal buildings, like airports, already have gender neutral washrooms. 

I find it quite difficult when they call me transphobic, when I, in fact, have worked diligently on bringing this bill to a vote.- Senator Donald Plett

"The amendment doesn't prevent them from going into a bathroom," Plett said.

Instead, he explained, it accounts for a situation where a transgender person goes into spaces such as a shower room or crisis centre and another person feels uncomfortable.

"If there is a person in there who feels uncomfortable, that person is allowed to go out and tell the management, 'I feel uncomfortable. I would like this individual to leave me in privacy until I am done taking my shower and then he or she can go back in there.'"

Plett said without the amendment, a manager who asks someone to leave in such a situation now can be brought and tried before a human rights commission. 

"I find it quite difficult when they call me 'transphobic,' when I, in fact, have worked diligently on bringing this bill to a vote, which has now been stalled by a Liberal senator by bringing for an amendment in the Senate chamber." 

As Bill C-279 awaits a report from the senate committee, activists continue to take selfies in the opposite sex's washroom as a form of protest.

Cheesbrough snapping a selfie in a mens' washroom. (Madeline Kotzer/CBC News)

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