York student receives Human Rights award

Susan Gapka is radiant and for a good reason.

The York University student was honoured by the City of Toronto for her advocacy work highlighting the barriers faced by “transpeople”. Gapka received the award as part the city’s celebration of Human Rights Day, which is celebrated around the world on Dec. 9.

Right: Human rights advocate Susan Gapka

The City of Toronto presented five awards to individuals who have championed the cause of human rights. The presentation took place on Dec. 9, in the council chambers of Toronto City Hall. Gapka received the Pride Award from Toronto Mayor David Miller. The award honours the contributions of  persons or organizations whose efforts have been significant for the well-being and advancement of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgendered, transsexual and two-spirited (LGBTTTS) communities in Toronto.

“Receiving this award is a tremendous honour for me,” said a delighted Gapka. “The recognition that comes with this honour empowers a hidden population of individuals and gives focus to the barriers and lack of access to health care, surgery, employment and education that many transpeople face.”

Gapka has dedicated her life to fighting to reduce the barriers that transgendered, transsexual and two-spirited individuals face. Through great personal courage, she has given a face to the transgendered population in Canada.

“For many individuals, they feel they must live in silence and the consequences for them are terrible and include suicide, drug and alcohol abuse, self-harming and anger. Imagine living in a body that does not match how you feel,” said Gapka. “I chose to become visible as a way of humanizing the transgendered population.”

Gapka made her own transition on Sept. 28, 1999 and fulfilled her lifelong dream of living as a woman. She is active in the York Federation of Students (2001-2004), the York Senate (2002-2005) and the York University Board of Governors (2003-2004). She is a TBLG commissioner (2001-2004) with the Canadian Federation of Students and is a member of numerous lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered committees both locally and nationally.

She is an educational trainer on “trans” isues and has worked on the Ontario Public Health Association’s Trans Health Project. Gapka is a transsexual and transgender trainer and works for numerous organizations in the Greater Toronto Area.

Currently she is working with Egale Canada, a national advocacy group for the transsexual and transgender community. Gapka is Chair of the Trans Issues Committee for Egale and has recently completed an action plan that focuses on how to break down barriers experienced by the trans population in Canada.

Gapka is in her final year of study and is working hard to earn a bachelors degree with specialized honours in Public Policy & Administration in the Political Science Program at York University. Prior to entering York she served as a director of the student association at George Brown College.

Other recipients of the award included Martin Bourgeois, an advocate who established a support network for parents or those who wish to become parents, and Pride Toronto for operating the annual gay pride festival which contributes to the local economy and creates an understanding in the general public of the spirit and energy of the LGBTTTS community.