Justice for Jessica rally at Dalhousie

Students and faculty speak out against transphobia on campus

Jessica Dempsey thanking the crowd of supporters at Thursday’s rally. (Photo: Kristie Smith)

A crowd rallying in solidarity against transphobia crowded the front of the Dalhousie Student Union Building this afternoon calling for changes.

The Justice for Jessica rally was in support of Jessica Dempsey, a Dalhousie University student who has alleged discrimination from campus staff and is filing a human rights complaint.

“I’m very overwhelmed right now,” said Dempsey, her voice low and her hands shaking as they held her cue cards.

Almost 100 students came out in solidarity, some with handmade signs, flags and pins. True to Halifax nature, the weather was less than ideal but the rain held off and the crowd was undeterred.

A protester at the Justice for Jessica rally, listening attentively to the speaker. (Photo: Kristie Smith)

South House, Dal’s sexual gender resource centre, led the rally after Dempsey spoke with the press about the troubles she has had being transgender at Dal.

“When I heard that Jessica was filing claims with the human rights commission, I really felt that we needed to support her,” said Shaun Bartone, a sessional instructor at Dal.

“I’ve done that in the past and I wasn’t supported. It’s a very rough process to go through,” he adds.

The rally started at 4 p.m. outside the Dal Student Union Building (SUB) and began with speeches from:

  • Jessica Dempsey, the student discriminated against

  • Elise Boudreau Graham, Equity and Accessibility Co-ordinator with the Dalhousie Student Union

  • Shaun Bartone, a professor at Dalhousie

  • Laura Shepherd, Outreach Co-ordinator with Nova Scotia Public Interest Research Group (NSPIRG)

The group generally agreed that Dalhousie is a safe and welcoming community, but that the administration needs to improve its policy and attitude on transgender issues.

“I was expecting at least double this,” admits Jude Ashburn, outreach co-ordinator at South House and one of the primary organizers. “I think maybe the weather had something to do with this or maybe people don’t take this seriously enough. I’m hoping it’s the weather.”

The event lasted an hour and a half and ended with an interpretive performance before the rain started.

Over the summer, Dempsey was mocked by a cafeteria worker on campus when she told him her name. She had eaten there when she went by her old name and the employee recognized her. He refused to believe her name was Jessica and, after retreating to the kitchen briefly, refused to serve her.

She has since been called her old name despite efforts to inform people of the change and having been asked if her breasts were real.

“It’s not my job to educate the entire university,” says Dempsey.

 

 
 

One thought on “Justice for Jessica rally at Dalhousie

  1. I have still not processed the emotions I feel. What I can say is I do not feel alone anymore because all of you showed some much support. I know many of you could not make the event. So, I have decided to post my speech: Here is my speech from the rally:

    When I decided to go public I was following my heart. Inside of me I knew this was the right choice; I followed my values. Instinctually I had thoughts of safety, how other would react and the impact. I had enough of being treated differently because I am Transgender. I am not going to hide anymore. I decided to take a very public stand for myself and many others like me who are not being heard. Previously I had seen media articles where the photo only showed the bottom half of an interviewed person. Why? Because they were scared to come out. It’s like we are treated as half people. Trans people are human beings. Yet, there are so many things we miss out on in university because of the lack of understanding.

    During my real life experience at the university I was subject to discrimination and harassment; plus I was asked about hormones and surgery. During this time I was also supported by special friends who reached out within the university. I publicly thank you for this support. I cannot believe it has been two years since I started my transition. It took me a year and a half to start hormones. Navigating through the medical system is not an easy task. Finally this January HRT was finally a reality. While on hormones I was waiting to come out when I was comfortable. See past experiences taught me coming out I would face more questions, more challenges and more harassment.

    This choice of waiting all changed when I was home one evening when I received an email from South House with questions for candidates. I was a candidate in DSU elections during the winter term. When I read the question: What would you do to make Dal safer for Trans students? I paused, I cried, I stayed up all night. Do I quit? What do I do? Leave me alone. First I had difficulty with the question because so much needs to be done for Transgender people. I knew how much energy it took me to just tell someone I was in the process of my transition; plus I was scared. I was also tired of hearing about the lack of female candidates in the election. So, I decided to come out as female in an election debate. I was scared, uncertain. When I spoke I watched a friend cry in front of me.

    See right now as I speak to you my emotions are fluctuating. I am going through a second puberty while everyone around me is not going through the same experience. I have to go through this part alone; work through the emotions. This is the time in my life I get to become whole become me. I want to embrace this experience. Not being the person who has to educate the entire university.

    This summer I was bullied and refused service because I am different. This affected me on a deep emotional level; to the core. What bothers me the most is I was not processing what happened; I was accepting this is the way things are going to be. The the event impacted my academic studies, my safety. I went through the university channels on this matter and then decided to put this behind me. But it seems nothing has changed. I have faced more harassment and an explanation I received is “Well you know Transgender stuff is really new and not everyone gets this stuff”

    Since I have come out publicly I have received emails as far as Australia. People I do not know have personally thanked me for showing such courage. Others have told me I have made it easier for them to come out. Many people have read my story and have offered support. Many people tell me they have faced similar situations. Did I want all of this? Maybe not, all I really wanted was to attend university and be me. But being a student in the Management Faculty I started thinking about what is the meaning of integrity. What accorded to me is this, Why am I here?

    Am I here just to get a an education, a good job and take whatever one can get from the world or am I here to make a difference a in the world. It took me a long time to not be ashamed of whom I am because I am Transgender.

    Sincerely

    Jessica

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