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Transgender student files rights complaint

Claims U of M wrongly turfed him from program

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Damien Leggett says he was forced out of a University of Manitoba program by the administration.

JESSICA BURTNICK / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Enlarge Image

Damien Leggett says he was forced out of a University of Manitoba program by the administration. Photo Store

A transgender student has launched a human rights complaint against the University of Manitoba's inner-city social work program after he said he was forced out by the administration.

Damien Leggett was transitioning from female to male when he started attending the program in 2010. He said his problems started when a professor in his program didn't refer to him by the male pronoun.

"I wasn't expecting it to be perfect, but once it was brought to the professors' attention several times that this is really painful to me... But to be fair, most of the professors there were amenable to learning," Leggett said.

"There was one professor who refused to learn as time went on."

Leggett said he faced problems trying to get access to a gender-neutral bathroom. At first, he said he was forced to use the male washroom until the university gave him access to the gender-neutral staff washroom, but was told not to let any other students use it.

"It essentially makes it so everybody's looking at me like 'Why is he using the gender-neutral bathroom.' I didn't want to be outed by my washroom preference," he said.

His problems mounted when he said the program forced him out because of two issues. One was an alleged joke he made involving flatulence that offended another student. The other, Leggett said, was a student Facebook page that included critical remarks about the program. Leggett said he never made any critical comments on the Facebook page.

He said he talked to a counsellor about the alleged joke after the other student complained about it.

"I told (the counsellor) I was terribly sorry, I didn't know that this woman would take offence to the fart joke," he said.

"I relayed to her to please apologize to the woman."

Leggett said he also sent the woman an email, but he later found out he was supposed to apologize to her in person. That was the reason the university gave for his removal from the program, he said.

Leggett said the university held a hearing about his suspension in April, but didn't provide documents about the accusations to Legett. He said he resorted to filing for access to the documents under the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act. By the time he got the documents in September, his appeal was rejected.

"(They said) it was too late, that it had gone past the 10 days I had to officially file an appeal," he said.

Eventually, Leggett said he found his way to the university's faculty of extended education, and now has a job as a research assistant. Still, he said the time he spent fighting was hard for him and his three children.

"I hid my removal from my children for probably three or four months, with the exception of my eldest son," he said.

"My kids were suffering because I was trying to keep it quiet, because I didn't want them to worry too much."

Leggett hopes the human rights complaint will bring light to what he said is an issue of transgender discrimination.

"This happens to other people, it's not just me. I know there are other people out there that experience this," he said.

John Danakas, director of marketing communications at the U of M, said the university is unable to comment due to privacy concerns, but said the university is "committed to maintaining a respectful work and learning environment" and that the university offers staff and students training, where appropriate, through the Rainbow Resource Centre.

"I think it's important to note that the University of Manitoba has filed a comprehensive reply to the complaints," Danakas said in an email.

The Manitoba Human Rights Commission could not be reached for comment.

oliver.sachgau@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition July 12, 2013 A9

History

Updated on Friday, July 12, 2013 at 6:32 AM CDT: Corrects quote from Joyhn Danakas: University has "respectful work and learning policy" (not "respectable"); Danakas is director of marketing communications, not director of communications; and Rainbow Resource Centre is separate entity.

6:38 AM: replaces photo

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