Those familiar gendered washroom symbols could eventually become a thing of the past at community centres, swimming pools, and parks in Vancouver.
Replacing them could be gender-neutral pictograms focusing on the function of the space: a toilet symbol for washrooms, a hanger for change rooms, and a shower for, well, showers.
As well, mixed-gender “family” spaces could be relabelled as “universal” in public recreational facilities overseen by the Vancouver park board.
These are just a few of the ideas floated in a new report by the city’s trans and gender-variant inclusion working group. On March 25, the advisory body announced the release of its draft recommendations, which pertain to public spaces, signage, human resources, and programs.
A few hours after reading the report, Trans Alliance Society secretary Morgane Oger told the Georgia Straight that she is “satisfied” with the work of the group, and she understands that the draft recommendations represent a “compromise”.
However, Oger was hoping the report would go even further and propose all facilities be made gender-neutral.
“I think a key in all of this is to be careful to not have transgender offered as a third gender—and this is the shortcoming, in my opinion, of the document,” Oger said by phone. “Rather than having a binary gender world of male and female—or man and woman—we end up with man, women, and exception. Exceptionalism for me is always difficult.”
On Tuesday (April 1) at 7 p.m., the working group plans to hold a community meeting about the draft recommendations at the Coal Harbour Community Centre. It’s also asking for feedback via an online survey.
Vision Vancouver park commissioner Trevor Loke told the Straight the working group’s final report is expected to be presented and voted on at the park board’s meeting on April 28. According to Loke, who’s the park board’s liaison for the group, the process leading up to the draft recommendations has been “successful and inclusive”.
“I think the recommendations are designed to be achievable, and they’re also designed to have a positive impact—not just for people that are trans and gender-variant,” Loke said by phone. “They’re designed to meet all the intersections of people who are having difficulty accessing spaces, whether those are seniors, persons with disabilities, people with body self-esteem issues who don’t access public spaces because of the criticism that they’re afraid of receiving from peers.
“The recommendations are designed to build bridges among various communities, so that we have a net positive impact for everybody. So I think, by the very definition of that, they are very realistic and they’ll be good for everyone.”
The report’s stated goals are to reduce barriers, strengthen inclusivity, and increase the number of trans and gender-variant users accessing park-board facilities. Its dozens of draft recommendations include:
- All community centres should have at least one universal and accessible single-stall washroom for each activity area.
- The number of private stalls in men’s washrooms should be increased.
- Multiple single-stall universal washrooms should be created “when possible”.
- When new change rooms are developed at swimming pools, there should be separate men’s, women’s, and universal facilities.
- “Gendered symbols of bodies” should be removed “as much as possible” from signage.
- Men’s and women’s washrooms should indicate that trans and gender-variant users are welcome.
- Trans-inclusive stickers should be placed at entrances to facilities.
- A public education campaign, which would explain the use of the term “universal”, should be carried out before signage changes.
- There should be mandatory training on trans and gender-variant awareness and sensitivity for staff.
- Staff should be trained to have an increased ability to resolve conflicts relating to gendered spaces and to do so in manner that respects trans and gender-variant people and upholds their rights.
- Job postings should explicitly state that trans and gender-variant people are encouraged to apply.
- New drop-in programming times should be introduced for trans and gender-variant people and allies, with windows and viewing areas covered for attendees’ safety.
- Instructors should avoid using gendered language (“ladies and gentlemen”) as well as dividing people into groups based on perceived gender in class.
“For many trans* and gender variant people, discrimination and the anxiety it creates are ongoing facets of life. Negotiating gender-segregated spaces, such as change rooms and washrooms, can in itself be an anxiety-inducing task due in part to previous experiences being confronted (i.e. gender-policed) in spaces where others feel they do not belong,” the report states.
“In this case, gender-policing can include a range of behaviours from blatant non-verbal and verbal expressions of disapproval, disrespectful harassment meant to shame people into leaving the washroom of their rightful choice, or, in the worst scenarios, physical assault. When no alternatives to gender segregated space exists, such as universal change rooms, safety decreases for many trans* and gender variant individuals, and consequently their use of these facilities.”
Oger called the report a “good start”. The Trans Alliance Society secretary said she was especially pleased to see some of the draft recommendations addressing staff training.
“To make it clear that the definition of a man and the definition of a woman is actually not based on the body bits, but based on who you identify as and who you are as a person, I think that’s a very, very good step forward,” Oger said. “I’m very pleased to see Vancouver trying very hard to take a step forward in removing discrimination against anybody and especially when that anybody includes me.”
Chaired by Metha Brown and Drew Dennis, the working group was formed after the park board voted unanimously in May 2013 to provide for “greater inclusivity” in its facilities. The group’s other members are Gwen Haworth, Ayesha Ismail-Kanani, Theo Jakob, Danielle Jarvis, Kai Scott, and Blake Stitilis.
Reached by phone, Trans Alliance Society chair Marie Little told the Straight that the working group could have undertaken “a bit more outreach” in the months before the draft recommendations' release.
“But, on the whole, it was a fair enough process,” Little said.