Changing my name at work, Part 2: The Union

So, after work tried to pull their weird appeal-to-authority intimidation tactic to make me put up and shut up on being continually birthnamed, it was clear I couldn’t make any more head-way on my own. I needed backup!

So, this is also the point in the story where I have to acknowledge how incredibly fortunate and privileged I am in a couple of ways, which were what made this entire process doable for me:

  1. I am working in a unionized environment. As a contract worker, I am not actually a union member, and I am not protected by provisions in the collective bargaining agreement. But, the one thing the union can do for me is represent me on human rights issues. Which brings me to my second source of privilege.
  2. I live in Ontario. And the Ontario Human Rights Code contains provisions protecting folk from discrimination based on gender identity and expression. It’s actually even better than that, though.

    The OHRC actually explicitly defines “trans or transgender” as umbrella terms that “includes but is not limited to people who identify as transgender, trans woman (male-to-female), trans man (female-to-male), transsexual, cross-dresser, gender non-conforming, gender variant or gender queer.” The section on gender expression explicitly notes that “A person’s chosen name and pronoun are also common ways of expressing gender.” And finally, we learn that “Discrimination happens when a person experiences negative treatment or impact, intentional or not, because of their gender identity or gender expression.”

    It’s an obvious slam dunk, is what I’m saying.

So, after receiving the final “this issue is now closed” denial from the CEO, I fired off an email to my union representative, with a brief summary of the situation, plus the entire email thread up to the point.

And let me tell you, this person is pretty much my hero now. You don’t even know.

Less than half an hour after I got in touch (at approximately 6:30 on a Tuesday, for the record), he responded. The response started “Thank you for getting in touch with me Kasey”, which in and of itself was an incredible relief after the way my work had been persisting in responding to my emails by calling me by my birthname, even while I signed mine off as Kasey.

He immediately explained the situation regarding the limitations of what the union could help me with, but said this definitely sounded like a human rights issue. He also asked for clarification about the dysphoria I had referenced in my emails both to him and to the employer, and asked whether I had a medical diagnosis.

I confirmed that I was talking about gender-related dysphoria, and told him I am a transgender person of the genderqueer variety. I explained that I don’t have any related medical diagnosis because I don’t consider my gender to be a disorder, and have no interest in having it diagnosed as such.

He responded, *apologized for his ignorance* (which I found inexpressibly charming?), and asked if he could forward me emails to CUPE National. I agreed.

Within two hours, (again, well after office hours on a Tuesday!) the union had agreed to back me on the case.

So, under my union rep’s advice, I made an appointment a few days later to speak to the HR person about their decision in the matter of my name. He went to the meeting with me, and it was honestly awesome.

We walked into the room, and as I was sitting down the HR person, looked at me union rep and said “I wasn’t informed you would be here.”

Union Rep: “Well, you shouldn’t be surprised. We have a human rights issue here”

HR person, taken aback now: “…I’ll inform [the CEO].”

At this point, the union rep stood up and walked out, so I went with him. In the hallway outside, he said we should give the employer three days to respond, and after that we would file the official grievance if necessary, but that he expected they would just capitulate.

He also thanked me for being brave enough to do this. I just about could have cried.

This was Thursday the 25th. Three business days passed without any word. At the end of Tuesday the 30th, I got in touch with the union rep to ask what the next steps. The following day was Canada Day, so nothing was going to happen then, but he said that if we heard nothing from the employer (or if we heard another no) on Thursday, he would file the grievance.

They got in touch with him on Thursday to set up a meeting for me, him, the HR person, and the CEO on Friday morning. They did not contact me at all, and I only heard about it on Thursday from my union rep. The meeting was during my regularly scheduled shift, though, so it was no trouble for me to be there.

Read on to part 3: the meeting!

9 comments

  1. I am also looking forward to the next installment!

    The OHRC sounds fantastic — thank you for the details on what it contains. I’m not familiar with the details of any gender-expression-based protections in the US (a few places have instituted them; I’m just not familiar with their particulars), so I appreciate having a comparison point of something that seems well thought-out and responsive to your (and others’) needs.

    1. I know right!? I was actually super surprised to find out how good it was. The fact that it includes gender identity/expression at all is relatively new, so I assumed it would still be binarist at least. I was really pleased at what I found when I googled it up!

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