On July 13, Vancouver city council unanimously approved five recommendations to support trans equality.
The recommendations include the creation of an interdepartmental staff team to implement an action plan, with details outlined in the report Trans*, Gender Variant and Two-Spirit Inclusion at the City of Vancouver.
The report, prepared by consultants TransFocus Consultation and Equity Labs, will also be shared with the Vancouver Public Library Board and Vancouver Police Board for their review.
Drew Dennis, formerly the executive director of Out on Screen (which presents the annual Vancouver Queer Film Festival and runs Out in Schools), launched TransFocus Consultation in March with business partner Kai Scott and was one of the consultants who worked on the report.
Dennis said they find it encouraging that not only are organizations and companies taking pro-active approaches in wanting to learn more about trans issues, but they are also heartened by the City of Vancouver's approach.
"We're very fortunate and we're living in a city where there's a lot of great momentum towards equity and inclusion, and it's nice to see that trans, gender-variant, and two-spirit is included in that broader equity work," Dennis said by phone.
Dennis explained that the report lists both specific and broader opportunities to address trans-related issues, such as updating washroom signage for single-usage washrooms from stick figures to function based signs, which shows toilets instead of people.
"It lets people know what's inside versus who's allowed or permitted to use that space," Dennis said.
Dennis said training will begin at city hall with senior leadership and management team and the interdepartmental staff team will consider more specific opportunities to look at ways to address topics such as how to make gender-designated public spaces, such as supportive housing and shelters, accessible and inclusive for trans people.
However, the potential changes go beyond only being of benefit to LGBT people.
What such approaches are actually doing, Dennis explained, is addressing the ingrained concept that there are only two genders, rather than a gender spectrum.
"When we apply this gender lens as beginning to look at gender as much more expansive than the binary, it brings everybody along," Dennis said.
As an example, Dennis cited how moving beyond the two-gender system can benefit other social groups and issues, including women.
"Gender equity from a women's perspective has been such a significant movement and we know that when we look at things like equal pay, there's still a lot of work to do here in Canada, and I think again when we broaden that and become more sophisticated at looking at gender data, at looking at gender beyond a two-gender definition, that does bring benefit when we can begin to relax what can be rigid expectations or gender norms or rules," Dennis said. "I think that frees all of us."
As Dennis recognizes that a lot of these issues are new to people, TransFocus always integrates education and awareness in their work.
In addressing fears, Dennis explained that legal precedence has favoured transgender people using washroom that aligns with self-identified gender identity.
"From a legal perspective, people have the right to safety but they don't have the right to comfort," Dennis said. "I think when we look at the discomfort, the opportunity to continue these conversations and to develop understanding, to have dialogues, so that people can better understand because I think a lot of it just comes from a lack of awareness or a lack of opportunity to speak with someone who is trans and begin to appreciate a life that might be different from theirs."
While what the City of Vancouver is undertaking may appear to be complicated, Dennis pointed out that many changes can be made very simply by just being mindful about being trans-inclusive. Dennis used the example of how the City of Vancouver is not just holding LGBT–specific events but is also considering ways to make all events trans-inclusive.
"We know that it will take time, particularly when we look at the comprehensive action plan....It will take dedicated resources and to take time for the city to be able to really start implementing some of those more really meaningful opportunities for trans and gender-variant inclusion but what a fantastic path that we are now on together."