Drew Dennis says no child should have to withdraw from a day camp due to the challenges of dealing with other people’s expectations of gender.
“Here’s a way that we know people aren’t participating, because they’re not feeling safe or able to participate,” Dennis, the working group’s cochair, said by phone, “and starting as young as 10—heartbreaking.”
Dennis—who identifies as trans and also sits on the city’s LGBTQ advisory committee—told the Georgia Straight that more than 30 people attended the town-hall-style meeting on October 28 at the Trout Lake Community Centre. The event marked the start of the “engagement phase” for the working group, which was established after the Vancouver park board voted unanimously in May to provide for “greater inclusivity” in its facilities.
According to Dennis, the working group hopes to gather input from as many people as possible—especially gender-nonconforming folks and their parents and caregivers—as it puts together a package of recommendations for the park board. The group has launched a blog, posted an online survey, and plans to hold a second community meeting. They aim to release a draft report for public feedback by February, before filing the final report by April 1, 2014.
The park board—which oversees beaches, community centres, golf courses, pools, and rinks—has asked for recommendations dealing with signage and literature; public spaces, including washrooms and change rooms; human-resources training and staff policies; programming, including “all-bodies” programming; and collaborative public and community partnerships. Dennis noted the group will look at how university campuses and other cities have approached transgender issues.
“We see our goal as being able to recommend low-cost, high-impact measures that would be something the park board could realistically implement,” Dennis said.
Dennis believes Vancouver is the first municipality in Canada to undertake such a “groundbreaking” process. The cochair noted the park board is providing meeting space for the working group, which has eight volunteer members and no budget. Their final report will be shared with Vancouver’s city council and school board.
“Our grandparents may remember racially segregated washrooms and public spaces,” Dennis said. “Our parents may remember the pre-wheelchair-accessible days. Now that’s considered the norm—that you provide wheelchair-accessible access to spaces. This is yet another example of how we create more equity around public spaces and access to public spaces.”
Dennis stressed that the working group is all about inclusion, so its recommendations won’t exclude anyone.
“When we create spaces that are safer and more inclusive,” Dennis said, “other people are going to benefit from that as well.”