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Wilson, Douglas (1950-1992)  
 
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Doug Wilson is best remembered as the human rights activist who filed a 1975 complaint of discrimination in employment based on sexual orientation against the University of Saskatchewan. It marked one of the first times that discrimination against gay men and lesbians was challenged in the legal system in Canada.

He is also remembered as the life partner of American-Canadian writer/performer Peter McGehee. Together, they were a tour de force that married activism with art and entertainment. They collaborated on McGehee's fiction and the songs for his musical revues, and on Wilson's social and political activism and grassroots organizing.

Sponsor Message.

Wilson was born on October 11, 1950 in Meadow Lake, Saskatchewan, the second oldest of four children. His formative years were heavily influenced by Saskatchewan's history of progressive government. Tommy Douglas was founder of Canada's universal health care plan, and as Premier of Saskatchewan led the province to adopt the first human rights protections in North America in 1947, one year before the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Wilson received his Bachelor of Education degree, with majors in art and history, from the University of Saskatchewan, and planned a career in teaching. He also had an interest in politics, serving as president of the student union in the College of Education and sitting on the university's student council. His early advocacy work involved initiating student evaluations of courses and faculty to help students in planning their programs. After completing his undergraduate degree, Wilson taught public school in Makwa, Saskatchewan, where he received excellent reviews.

Wilson's Case of Discrimination against the University of Saskatchewan

In the fall of 1975, Wilson entered the Educational Foundations graduate program in the University of Saskatchewan's College of Education, which allowed him to teach first-year students and supervise practice teachers.

Wilson had been out of the closet for only a few months when he started recruiting people to join a campus gay association. He placed an ad in the University of Saskatchewan's student newspaper, The Sheaf, using a College of Education post box for replies.

For James B. Kirkpatrick, Dean of Education, an ad associated with the College of Education that advocated homosexuality was a threat to the relationship between the College and the Saskatoon school boards. Fearing what might happen if the Saskatoon school boards found out that an openly gay man was interacting with younger teachers, Kirkpatrick banned Wilson from supervising student teachers.

Within four hours of being informed of Kirkpatrick's decision, a number of students, faculty, and staff of the university formed The Committee to Defend Doug Wilson. The committee took it upon themselves to organize against the university's decision, leaving Wilson to tell his story to the media.

In their comments on what was happening to Wilson, the committee wrote: "One insidious effect of Dean Kirkpatrick's action is that it encourages the furtiveness and shame from which homosexuals are only just beginning to free themselves. . . . The wider implications of this discriminatory act are obvious: if the leaders of our educational system are allowed to make such bigoted and arbitrary decisions unchallenged, then we deserve the narrow and oppressive school system which is the inevitable result."

The Education Students Union supported the committee by passing a resolution calling for Wilson's reinstatement, as did the University of Saskatchewan Students Union and members of the Educational Foundations department. The university administration, however, would not back down.

Wilson's case was picked up by the media, which brought him to national attention. His story landed him on the December 1975 cover of the national gay publication The Body Politic. Wilson provided a positive media image that countered the usual negative stereotypes of homosexuals. The case, and the publicity it received, had the effect of opening up discussion around homosexuality. It also caused other organizations to rethink and adopt non-discrimination clauses in their policies, including the Saskatchewan Federation of Labour and three constituency ridings (i.e., legislative districts) of the Saskatchewan New Democratic Party (NDP).

Wilson lodged a complaint with the Saskatchewan Human Rights Commission, requesting an investigation. The commission planned to determine whether Wilson had been discriminated against in employment because of his sex, in particular as a gay man, and whether that was contrary to section 3 of The Fair Employment Practices Act.

The University responded by applying to the Saskatchewan Court of Queen's Bench for an order to prohibit the inquiry by establishing that the word "sex" referred only to gender, and more specifically to women, and that Wilson's sexual orientation was not covered by the Act. The court ruled in favor of the university and Wilson's case could not move forward.

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