On January 27th 2018, the Saskatchewan Party will elect a new leader. On March 3rd, 2018, the Saskatchewan New Democratic Party will elect a new leader.

The results of these leadership races will have significant impact on sexually and gender diverse communities in Regina and Saskatchewan as a whole. On January 17th 2018, we sent all candidates a list of questions about queer and trans issues in the province, and we wanted to share their answers with you. As soon as candidates respond, we will update this post with their responses.

Here are the questions we asked:

  1. What do you believe are the main concerns of 2LGBTQIAP+ people in Saskatchewan?
  2. Saskatchewan has some of the highest rates of HIV+ in Canada. With recent funding cuts to organizations that work on preventative intervention, how do you intend on increasing support to HIV+ and AIDS organizations in Saskatchewan?
  3. Trans healthcare in the province of Saskatchewan is absolutely abysmal, with healthcare professionals not being armed with the knowledge to properly care for transgender patients. In what ways do you think the Saskatchewan government can better support access to medical services and specialists for transgender patients in the province?
  4. Many jurisdictions across Canada have mandated that students have the right to access GSAs (Gay/Straight Alliances, Gender & Sexuality Alliances) in their schools. Do you believe in supporting students’ rights to developing safe(r) spaces in their learning environments that promote discrimination-free schools for 2LGBTQIAP+ students and teachers? Why or why not?
  5. Unemployment or underemployment is an enormous issue for 2LGBTQIAP+ people. 2LGBTQIAP+ are less likely to be hired, and experience wage disparity in comparison with their heterosexual peers. What sorts of initiatives do you believe that the Government of Saskatchewan can develop or support in order to reduce the rate of unemployment and underemployment in the 2LGBTQIAP+ community?
  6. As of August 31st 2018, Canadians will be able to hold passports identifying their gender with an “x” marker. Many jurisdictions across Canada have changed their vital statistics act to allow for non-binary Canadians to access vital documents with gender-neutral markers. Do you believe that the Saskatchewan Government should update legislation to reflect a congruence with this national legislation?

Download Ryan Meili’s Responses by clicking here.

Download Trent Wotherspoon’s Responses by clicking here.

Ryan Meili’s Responses:

Dear UR Pride,
Thank you for your thoughtful questions to my campaign for leadership of the NDP. Please see my answers below.

1. What do you believe are the main concerns of 2LGBTQIAP+ people in Saskatchewan?

Through my work as a family doctor, community activist, and now in political office, I’ve had many conversations with advocates within the 2LGBTQIAP+ community, and while I recognize that my understanding is limited as I speak from the perspective of a cisgendered heterosexual man, the most pressing concerns I’m hearing are: homelessness of queer youth, violence and hate crimes targeting 2LGBTQIAP+ people, and ensuring access to healthcare and mental health services that are accessible, supportive, inclusive and comprehensive.

2. Saskatchewan has some of the highest rates of HIV+ in Canada. With recent funding cuts to organizations that work on preventative intervention, how do you intend on increasing support to HIV+ and AIDS organizations in Saskatchewan?

Working with HIV-positive patients and their families has been a major part of my medical practice, and lack of political action on prevention and treatment motivated me to run for office. I have been an outspoken advocate for evidence-based responses to the HIV crisis, grounded in a harm reduction approach that takes guidance from people living with HIV/AIDS and those who support them. Among frontline providers and international experts, there is a strong consensus on how to decrease the rates of HIV and how to help HIV-positive people stay healthy. What has been missing in Saskatchewan is the political will to take action — and this lack of action is incredibly costly in every sense.

Saskatchewan has the highest rates of HIV in the country, twice that of the national average, and the number of newly diagnosed cases is rising. The province is facing an epidemic exacerbated by limitations of geography, funding, stigmatization of testing, and social and economic barriers to accessing the full range of healthcare supports needed to begin decreasing these rates. As premier, I would commit to adopting the UNAIDS 90-90-90 goal which aims at seeing 90% of those who are are HIV-positive knowing their status, 90% of those diagnosed receiving antiretroviral treatment, and 90% of those on treatment having undetectable viral loads that would eliminate the risk of transmission.

To further support the work of HIV and AIDS organizations in the province, I would commit to implementing a universal pharmacare plan would see 100% coverage for the antiretroviral medications that folks with HIV require to live healthy lives.

To achieve this goal, the government of Saskatchewan must step in to support HIV and AIDS organizations, as they have recently taken significant hits to their federal funding structures. These organizations have been placed under increasing burdens of pressure, high caseloads, and inadequate supports to serve an already underserved population with high barriers to accessing health services and high risks of HIV transmission. Education and prevention should be a priority. To address this epidemic, the government of Saskatchewan must ensure that organizations, both those that work specifically with the LGBTQIAP+ community and more general HIV support organizations, can provide low-barrier services rooted in harm reduction, delivered to communities within which they live.

See more on my response to Saskatchewan’s HIV/AIDS crisis here:
http://www.ryanmeili.com/time_for_action_on_hiv​.

3. Trans healthcare in the province of Saskatchewan is absolutely abysmal, with healthcare professionals not being armed with the knowledge to properly care for transgender patients. In what ways do you think the Saskatchewan government can better support access to medical services and specialists for transgender patients in the province?

To support transgender patients, the Saskatchewan government must work to ensure that health care providers across the province are properly trained to be able to meet the needs of transgender people seeking care. Starting from the basics of understanding key terms and concepts, health care providers must also understand the health and healthcare inequities faced by transgender people, and be trained to provide a supportive and gender-affirming plan for care.

Further to this, increased access and full coverage for mental health supports would be instrumental in ensuring safety and wraparound care for transgender people. Studies have shown that transgender people face persistent social discrimination and violence and victimization, contributing to higher risks of suicide, detrimental mental health conditions, and barriers to seeking healthcare that can have real impacts on overall quality of life. We need to provide universal mental health coverage, including counselling and emergency supports. We also need to support access to surgical services, increasing what services are available in the province and supporting travel and other supports for people who need to go out-of-province for their care.

I believe that there is a significant need for education to healthcare providers on the health concerns unique to transgender people, as is training that is culturally relevant, sensitive to the lived experience of transgender individuals, and informed by the needs of transgender communities. We also need further research on how to provide the best care, so I would advocate for increased promotion of transgender-related research in universities.

4. Many jurisdictions across Canada have mandated that students have the right to access GSAs (Gay/Straight Alliances, Gender & Sexuality Alliances) in their schools. Do you believe in supporting students’ rights to developing safe(r) spaces in their learning environments that promote discrimination-free schools for 2LGBTQIAP+ students and teachers? Why or why not?

I absolutely support students’ rights to safer spaces including forming and accessing GSAs, PRIDE centres, community resources, and educational materials that can support not only a student’s own journey but also provide an opportunity to educate those who might hold discriminatory views towards members of the 2LGBTQIAP+ community in an effort to decrease ignorance and hatred in spaces that might otherwise be considered unsafe. Spaces that are free of discrimination, where 2LGBTQIAP+ people can build community and share support systems are crucial to creating a healthy society that works for everyone.

5. Unemployment or underemployment is an enormous issue for 2LGBTQIAP+ people. 2LGBTQIAP+ are less likely to be hired, and experience wage disparity in comparison with their heterosexual peers. What sorts of initiatives do you believe that the Government of Saskatchewan can develop or support in order to reduce the rate of unemployment and underemployment in the 2LGBTQIAP+ community?

Unemployment impacts the 2LGBTQIAP+ community disproportionately. As it currently sits however, the Saskatchewan Human Rights Commission Equity Program identifies “Aboriginal people, women, persons with disabilities, and visible minorities/racialized groups as appropriate subjects for equity plans,” with no mention of sexual orientation as a possible focus. The Saskatchewan Government should amend the Human Rights Commission Equity Program to include members of the 2LGBTQIAP+ community as part of equity plans. This would help to reduce the rate of unemployment and underemployment by ensuring companies that sign Equity Partnership Agreements with the SHRC would increasingly hire members of the 2LGBTQIAP+ community.

6. As of August 31st 2018, Canadians will be able to hold passports identifying their gender with an “x” marker. Many jurisdictions across Canada have changed their vital statistics act to allow for non-binary Canadians to access vital documents with gender-neutral markers. Do you believe that the Saskatchewan Government should update legislation to reflect a congruence with this national legislation?

Yes, I believe that the Saskatchewan Government should update legislation that creates a safer, more inclusive, and more gender affirming province for non-binary residents of Saskatchewan, including allowing gender-neutral markers on identification.


Trent Wotherspoon’s Responses:

Thank you for the questionnaire you submitted on public policy issues concerning members of the 2LGBTQIAP+ community. My responses to your questions are below:

1. What do you believe are the main concerns of 2LGBTQIAP+ people in Saskatchewan?

Access to health services is an issue that comes up time and again when I meet with 2LGBTQIAP+ people. 2LGBTQIAP+ people have specific health care needs and our health system needs to respect that. As premier, I would work with organizations like UR Pride and OUT Saskatoon to make sure that 2LGBTQIAP+ citizens of our province are able to access the high-quality health services they deserve.

One of the key commitments I have made in this leadership campaign is to deliver on universal coverage for mental health and addictions services – and I want to ensure we can address the unique needs 2LGBTQIAP+ people face. I’ll do that by working with as a collaborative partner with leaders in the 2LGBTQIAP+ community like you to make sure all Saskatchewan people are able to get the mental health and addictions services they need.

I also know that far too many 2LGBTQIAP+ students in our schools don’t feel safe or included. I’m committed to inclusive education – and that means making sure all students are able to form GSAs in their schools and supporting a team of anti-oppressive human rights teachers to work in schools throughout our province.

2. Saskatchewan has some of the highest rates of HIV+ in Canada. With recent funding cuts to organizations that work on preventative intervention, how do you intend on increasing support to HIV+ and AIDS organizations in Saskatchewan?

HIV/AIDS is a serious issue for our province and we’ve seen an unacceptable level of inaction from the Sask. Party government. As premier, I would stop the cuts to CBOs as a first order of business, and I would significantly increase funding for groups like AIDS Saskatoon and Planned Parenthood that are on the front lines of addressing the HIV AIDS crisis in our province. By investing in harm reduction, universal coverage mental health and addictions services, and front-line care, we can meet the World Health Organization’s 90-90-90 targets and save lives.

3. Trans healthcare in the province of Saskatchewan is absolutely abysmal, with healthcare professionals not being armed with the knowledge to properly care for transgender patients. In what ways do you think the Saskatchewan government can better support access to medical services and specialists for transgender patients in the province?

All Saskatchewan people should be able to count on high-quality, dignity-affirming healthcare. Unfortunately, that isn’t the reality for transgender patients in many parts of our province. As premier, I would invest in training for healthcare professionals to increase awareness of best practices within our healthcare system and give our nurses, doctors, and care aids the tools and knowledge they need to offer transgender patients the high-quality care they should be able to expect as equal citizens of our province.

Currently, transgender patients who require therapies or surgeries that are only available outside of Saskatchewan are forced to pay out-of-pocket for their travel and accommodation. As premier, I would end this policy and make sure that every patient who has to travel to access the healthcare they need can do so regardless of their ability to pay.

4. Many jurisdictions across Canada have mandated that students have the right to access GSAs (Gay/Straight Alliances, Gender & Sexuality Alliances) in their schools. Do you believe in supporting students’ rights to developing safe(r) spaces in their learning environments that promote discrimination-free schools for 2LGBTQIAP+ students and teachers? Why or why not?

I completely support a student’s right to start a GSA in their school. I was proud to work with my colleague David Forbes on this important issue while I served as Official Opposition Critic for Education in 2015 and 2016, and I fully support his private member’s bill that would enshrine this right into law.

As a part on my comprehensive education policy, I have also committed to supporting professional development and the establishment of a team of province-wide human rights and anti-oppressive catalyst teachers. Our schools need to be safe and inclusive spaces for all students, including 2LGBTQIAP+ students.

5. Unemployment or underemployment is an enormous issue for 2LGBTQIAP+ people. 2LGBTQIAP+ are less likely to be hired, and experience wage disparity in comparison with their heterosexual peers. What sorts of initiatives do you believe that the Government of Saskatchewan can develop or support in order to reduce the rate of unemployment and underemployment in the 2LGBTQIAP+ community?

It’s important to remember the role intersectional barriers play in the unemployment and underemployment facing members of the 2LGBTQIAP+ community. 2LGBTQIAP+ people are very diverse; they are young people, they are people of colour, they are Indigenous people, and they are women. Each of these communities experiences barriers to full & fulfilling employment.

One of the best ways to address the pay gap faced by marginalized groups is to increase the rate of unionization in the workplace. Over the last 10 years, the Sask. Party has undermined workers’ rights and made it more and more difficult for workers to organize. Rolling back these unfair provisions will make it easier for workers to join a union, which will play a significant part in reducing the pay gap faced by members of the 2LGBTQIAP+ community.

I would also be open to working with organizations like yours to see how we can deliver anti-oppressive and human rights education in workplaces and community organizations across Saskatchewan. By building relationships and having open conversations, we can raise awareness and work to remove barriers to full employment for 2LGBTQIAP+ people in Saskatchewan.

6. As of August 31st 2018, Canadians will be able to hold passports identifying their gender with an “x” marker. Many jurisdictions across Canada have changed their vital statistics act to allow for non-binary Canadians to access vital documents with gender-neutral markers. Do you believe that the Saskatchewan Government should update legislation to reflect a congruence with this national legislation?

Saskatchewan needs to get in line with the federal government and other jurisdictions in Canada. SGI, the provincial health authority, and other government agencies should be able to offer inclusive gender-markers on documents that affirm the dignity of all Saskatchewan people. As premier, I would ensure that all government agencies offer inclusive options for gender markers that reflect the realities of all people in Saskatchewan, including trans, Two Spirit, and non-binary people.

Thanks again for submitting this questionnaire, and for all the work UR Pride does to promote the rights of 2LGBTQIAP+ people in our province. I’ve been proud to stand and work with you as an ally, and I was very honoured to receive Political Leadership Award at the 2016 Queen City Pride Awards.