Justice for Jessica rally at Dalhousie
Students and faculty speak out against transphobia on campus
November 7, 2013, 6:35 PM ADT
Last updated November 8, 2013, 4:45 PM ADT
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.
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.