Nick Mulé Oral History (2016)
Nick Mulé has a long history as an LGBTQ activist, taking part in many influential organizations and movements. In 1989, Nick became a member of CLGRO –the Coalition for Lesbian and Gay Rights in Ontario. CLGRO was a group that fought for diverse gay rights causes, such as the inclusion of sexual orientation in the Ontario Human Rights Code. It had a liberationist perspective on social rights as opposed to a merely legislative one, acknowledging the need to go beyond obtaining equal rights in the law. In 1992, CLGRO obtained a five-year federal grant from Health Canada to study health needs in the LGBTQ+ community. This resulted in Project Affirmation, which in 1997 published a report called Systems Failure on the gaps and challenges for LGBTQ Ontarians in the healthcare system.
Nick laments how through most of its history, CLGRO was ran under trans-exclusionary feminist frameworks which limited its reach and inclusivity as an organization to the detriment of transgender individuals in Ontario. However, Nick recalls how this changed once CLGRO was approached by Ki Namaste, a noted transgender rights activist, who confronted the organization about their exclusionary policies. Ki highlighted the health and wellness needs of transgender Ontarians at the time and was instrumental in changing the future direction of the organization. Shortly after, Ki conducted research work for CLGRO, serving as a valuable ally in the fight for LGBTQ rights. The trans-exclusionary frameworks informing CLGRO were not unique to this organization, as Nick notes that most feminist and gay and lesbian rights groups in the 1980s and 1990s were unwelcoming and often hostile towards transgender individuals. Ki was one of many transgender individuals who challenged transphobic tenets within feminism at the time and helped expand the reach and vision of the movement. Interestingly, Nick recalls how Ki chose to conduct research with transgender individuals through interviews as opposed to surveys, as this offered a more insightful look into the lives and needs of this population.
He is one of the founders of Rainbow Health Network (RHN), which started in the early 2000s. RHN began as an offshoot group from CLGRO that worked to implement the recommendations of the Systems Failure report. This group of volunteers met monthly for many years at SHC, attracting other important activists such as Rupert Raj and Anna Travers. RHN spawned other successful groups of its own as well, such as the Trans Lobby Group which included Susan Gapka and Martine Stonehouse.
Nick talks about how RHN started being more proactive as of 2003, as the group had being forming and setting up for a few years while the province was also under the premiership of Mike Harris. Nick recalls this as a challenging time for LGBTQ+ activism in the province, as the Progressive Conservatives completely ignored the recommendations of Project Affirmation and eventually went on to delist coverage for gender confirmation surgery. While many challenges remained during the subsequent Liberal government, Nick remembers the McGuinty administration as more hospitable towards the LGBTQ+ rights cause. This welcoming attitude allowed RHN to gain access to provincial funding and rapport with politicians that proved vital to its mission. RHN, together with Anna Travers, drafted a proposal for the provincial government that led up to the creation of Rainbow Health Ontario in 2008.
After dissolving in 2009, CLGRO morphed into Queer Ontario. This organization had a broader and more inclusive mandate from the beginning, as transgender individuals were involved with it since the beginning. As well, Queer Ontario sought to capitalize on the use of social media to connect with organizations and resources province-wide as well as to promote their campaigns, as opposed to CLGRO which relied on physical meetings. Nonetheless, Nick laments how both Queer Ontario and CLGRO were overwhelmingly ran by white individuals as well as transgender women to the detriment of other collectives within the LGBTQ communities.
When asked about the relisting of GCS under OHIP, Nick says that the news shocked many in the community who were not expecting such a change in policy after ten years. However, he mentions that when the coverage was first relisted it was done under the guidelines and frameworks employed by CAMH, causing an immediate uproar in the transgender community. He recalls the hard work by Susan Gapka and other transgender activists and individuals who fought to get this coverage reinstated in a way that spoke to their needs and drifted from the medicalized approaches of CAMH, often employing storytelling as a method of highlighting the uniqueness of the transgender experience.
Interviewee: Nick Mulé