The Vancouver park board has approved a motion aimed at creating more inclusive spaces for trans and gender-variant communities.
In a vote late Monday night, park board commissioners unanimously supported the motion brought forward by Vision Vancouver commissioner Trevor Loke.
The move drew a standing ovation from supporters, many of whom shared stories with the board about their experiences feeling unwelcome in city facilities such as recreation centres, swimming pools, and washrooms.
“There are days when with the best intents I’m off to the gym or off to the pool, and I turn around and I go back,” said Drew Dennis, a member of the City of Vancouver’s LGBTQ advisory committee.
“On that day I’m not up to what might happen. I’m not up to being judged when I’m trying to navigate those spaces.”
Jamie James described the “stares, double takes and scowls” they face when using public change rooms at recreation facilities, while speaker Danielle Macdonell described every trip to a public washroom as “something I have to think about”.
“I have a recreation pass—I’ve had one for four or five years,” Macdonnell added. “I’ve never used it—I’m afraid of using it. I’m terrified to go to the gym; I’m terrified to go to the public pool.”
Rachel Andrus referred to the subject as not just a transgender issue, but one of human rights.
“Transgendered individuals are not asking for extra rights,” she told commissioners. “Ideally, we want the exact same rights as everyone else and the right not to be constantly judged.”
Loke’s motion calls for the creation of a trans and gender-variant working group to report to the park board detailing how Vancouver can be “the world’s most inclusive jurisdiction for trans and gender-variant communities”.
It also calls for a report by April 1, 2014, describing how the board can provide more inclusivity through signage and literature, public spaces such as washrooms, staff training, programming such as “all-bodies” swim events, and community partnerships.
According to organizer Theo Jakob, the “all-bodies” swim events at Templeton Park Pool, which include transgender and gender-variant participants, draw between 75 and 100 people every six weeks.
“Many of our attendees have noted that they otherwise do not access recreation facilities at all,” Jakob told the board. “They do not use the public spaces that are available to us in the city.”
Jamie Lee Hamilton told commissioners she wants to see “broad public consultation” around the working group’s recommendations.
She said the park board should use “extreme caution” when considering signage for public spaces such as washrooms. She noted that many trans people “are not out” and live very private lives.
“When we look at washrooms, I’ve heard a promotion that it should have trans identified on the washroom, and I just want you to think about the danger that could put someone in, and open them up to violent actions,” she said.
Loke, who is the park board liaison to the city’s LGBTQ advisory committee, called parks and recreation facilities “an extension of our health system”.
“People who are actively participating in parks and recreation are living mentally and physically healthy lives, and so when barriers exist, it’s a barrier to not just our beautiful natural environment, but also to a strong public health system,” he said in an interview.
Shantel Ivits of the Catherine White Holman Wellness Centre noted staff at the centre see first-hand “the barriers to health and wellness faced by trans and gender-diverse communities”.
“Health professionals receive very little training, if any, about how to support the wellness of trans people,” Ivits said. “Educators receive little if any training about how to support the safety and inclusion of trans students.”
“Infrastructure, the very fabric of our communities, is inappropriate and inadequate for trans identities, trans bodies, and trans lives,” Ivits added, noting the impacts on transgender people include social isolation, trauma, poverty and homelessness, and disproportionately high rates of anxiety and depression.
Loke said the next steps will be establishing the working group and its mandate.
“What we will then do is get an understanding around what the policy frameworks are within the park board, what some of the restrictions are such as around building codes and what we need to work within, and on the other side of the table, getting an understanding for what the community’s needs are, what the barriers are, and then finding overlap in terms of what we can do within policy frameworks, making sure that everyone is safe and able to access our parks and community spaces,” he said.
The working group will be co-chaired by two community members who will be appointed by the park board, in consultation with the LGBTQ civic advisory committee, and will be made up of another six members who will be chosen through a public application process.