Vancouver transgender inclusion report excludes transsexuals, activists say

Trans and gender-variant inclusion working group criticized for recommendations

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      A long-time transsexual activist doesn’t want to see the words “Trans people welcome” put on washroom signs at Vancouver parks and recreation facilities.

      “Would we put ‘First Nations welcome?” Jamie Lee Hamilton asked during a phone interview. “Would we put ‘Asian people welcome’? Would we put ‘Blacks welcome’?”

      Hamilton plans to seek a nomination from the Coalition of Progressive Electors to run for park board in the November civic election. She spoke to the Georgia Straight in response to a City of Vancouver task force’s 64-page report aimed at making parks, community centres, and swimming pools more welcoming to trans and gender-variant people.

      On Monday (April 28), Hamilton plans to attend a park board meeting in order to tell commissioners that the trans and gender-variant inclusion working group’s report should be considered a “starting point” and not a finished product. According to her, the report seemingly reflects the needs of everyone under the trans umbrella except for transsexual people.

      “We were the ones that led the battles, that did the heavy lifting in the old days to create spaces for future generations of transsexual and transgender people,” Hamilton said. “We were the ones that fought to have gender reassignment surgery as a medically insured procedure. But yet that’s just all erased and wiped out for this new ‘trans’ moniker that’s supposed to include everyone and the kitchen sink.”

      The working group’s report contains around 75 recommendations dealing with public spaces, signs, programs, financial accessibility, literature, training, and partnerships. One recommendation seeks the removal of “gendered symbols of bodies” from washroom and change room signs. Another recommendation calls for signs relating to men’s and women’s spaces to “indicate inclusion of trans* and gender variant patrons”.

      “What we’re talking about is—10, 20, 30 years from now—trans kids of the future won’t confined by the gender limitations and constraints of today,” Drew Dennis, cochair of the working group, told the Straight on April 22. “That’s particularly exciting for me.”

      However, Velvet Steele told the Straight that she was “offended” by the report. The transsexual dominatrix and sex work activist asserted that the term “transgender” has become “so bastardized and so appropriated”. She feels the working group ignored the transsexual community while focusing on “those who choose to not use any sort of definable gender marker for themselves”.

      “I happen to be a woman,” Steele said by phone. “I’ve gone to great lengths to become a woman—to be the person I’ve known I was from birth....To sit there and lump us under gender-variant, transgender, trans-this—all this shit is really pissing me off. And the fact that I’ve been yet again excluded from any conversation regarding all this.”

      According to Hamilton, the composition of the working group also does not reflect the trans community. For one thing, she noted that at least half of its eight members, including both of its cochairs, work at or sit on the board of the same queer arts organization—Out on Screen.

      Hamilton questioned why the working group only held two community meetings during several months of public engagement. (It also conducted focus groups and online surveys.) She’s calling for “broadly based” consultations that “hear from everyone”.

      “We have many members of our community—I’d say the majority—who live very stealth lives, meaning they pass in society,” Hamilton said. “They’re not out about their transsexual status. So they often don’t want to out themselves if it’s going to create a problem for them.”

      Although Hamilton is critical of the working group, she supports some of its recommendations, particularly those pertaining to awareness and sensitivity training for park staff.

      “What they really should be focusing on is education and educational programs,” Steele said. “Running around and changing the names on bathrooms and all these other different things so that it’s ambiguous, I don’t really necessarily think it’s the right approach. But if you want to talk about washrooms that everyone can walk into, I think it’s great. When we go visit our friends, we all use the same washroom, whether you’re a man or woman.”



      Gender is a fiction

      Apr 24, 2014 at 4:52pm

      Remove gender from the licenses and vital statistics register. But then how will we know who is part of a "historically disadvantaged group" who gets to benefit from discrimination that would otherwise be unlawful? Can't derail that ol' gravy train, can we?


      Apr 24, 2014 at 5:15pm

      Fine, just put up a sign that says "BATHROOM", problem solved, though no women will go in there. They will walk to the first cafe to use the women's only washroom guaranteed

      Get A Grip

      Apr 24, 2014 at 5:29pm

      Once again Jamie Lee Hamilton and Velvet Steele behave as though they speak for our hugely variant communities. Well you know what? If it's not about you, it's not about you. As far as I can tell, no one involved in pushing these changes through is saying YOU have to use a different washroom, nor are they trying to claim that you are not women, or that anyone isn't who and what they say they are.
      If you imagine that a long history in the community (as though many initiators and supporters of these changes don't also have long histories in these communities and /or have transsexual identities) means you get to dictate the bounds of that community, you are sadly mistaken and embarrassingly self-important.
      Some of us would very simply like to have the opportunity to do what you keep saying you *already* have the ability to do right now: use the bathroom.

      Rick in Richmond

      Apr 24, 2014 at 7:13pm

      These chronic complainers are enough to give narcissism a bad name.

      @Get A Grip

      Apr 24, 2014 at 7:49pm

      I am pretty sure you have the ability to do use the bathroom, that big doody you just posted proves it.

      Let's hear it for First World Problems!


      Apr 24, 2014 at 8:33pm

      Maybe the proposed signs aren't actually intended to welcome "trans people" as much as they are a warning to others that "trans people" may enter the washroom facility.

      t-bone stallone

      Apr 24, 2014 at 10:51pm

      Seriously, you cry about being invisible, are consequently made visible and then cry about that? Incidentally, I think the conflation of race and gender issues by this activist goes to show what bad taste they have.


      Apr 25, 2014 at 10:22am

      What an amazing waste of time and resources.

      You are a man or a woman (by birth or choice). There is no need to put up a third sign or even debate the topic. Someone at the city is trying to create a reason to have a job.

      Is it reasonable to assume we have more important things to deal with they signs on bathrooms? i.e. starving children, or the homeless rate that just doubled?

      Morgane Oger

      Apr 25, 2014 at 10:22am

      Ms Lee, the stakeholder review was last month. I did not hear you participate there.

      You should have come and commented at the time. Or you should have listened in. and written in your feedback.

      90% of life is showing up. I came. I participated. I commented. I suggested exactly what you suggested. So yes, your position was presented.

      If you had been there maybe your voice would have been helpful whereas now it is merely confusing and self-serving and actually smells of attention-getting behaviour.

      So as you may suspect, we are not here to serve only long-assimilated gender-nonconforming human-rights veteran who have participated in the long hard battle to get us where we are...

      And thank you for participating in that in the positive ways you may have helped make society able to have the discussion how taking place.

      However your being older than me does not give you any more right to a voice than me. You may have your views, and I respect them, but so do others. They need to be respected and when they compete then we have to select everyone's best interests.

      So thank you for your past and present help, but please do not try to stifle my and other peoples attempts at making a better place for ALL OF US just because you prefer your own flavour of gender-variant inclusivity - one that in fact you actually already have.

      Like you, I think, I would prefer to not need to have the signage at all. I would prefer everyone in Vancouver to just leave me alone and I would prefer to feel safe when taking my family swimming. I would also prefer not to have comments aimed at me about my being welcome in a change room happen in front of the my children. Oh and I would like to change in a safe place that does not 'other' me.

      And I would like to know that the keepers of the space will stand up for me in case of an argument.

      And as was discussed in the stakeholders review, one way to help with this is to have signage that tells cis (non-trans) persons that as a female-identifying person I am welcome in female-segregated spaces. and telling me where the men-segregated spaces are so I can avoid those. And that male-identifying persons are welcome and safe in the male-segregrated spaces.

      Hence, the reason the signs are there at all is really simply to give a helpful hint to the non-trans* persons they should really just leave us alone.

      Morgane Oger

      Apr 25, 2014 at 11:39am

      t-bone stallone: I support your statement that conflagration of other issues into this issue is inappropriate. Each issue needs to stand on its own, and like other struggles there are many approaches to dealing with accessibility issues in recreational facilities. I urge everyone to read the document. Those that do will see that signage is the smallest part of the content and that training, communication, and behaviour guidelines are the interesting material this document proposes in its effort to answer a provincial determination that the rights gender-variant persons to use public spaces *must* be accommodated.