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Pools, parks and rec centres to become more trans-friendly

Vancouver park board approves working group’s recommendations

Park board commissioners, from left, Constance Barnes, Trevor Loke and John Coupar listen to questions from Jamie Lee Hamilton. Credit: Niko Bell

All seven Vancouver Board of Parks and Recreation commissioners raised their hands April 28 to support a plan to make Vancouver parks facilities more trans-friendly.

The proposal will mean more trans awareness training for staff at parks, pools and recreation centres; more space for gender-neutral change rooms in new park buildings; new signs around change rooms, including the phrase “trans people welcome” below men’s, women’s and universal change rooms; more “all-body swims” at local pools; and easier access to subsidized recreation passes.

“I’m elated right now,” said Drew Dennis, a chair of the board’s trans and gender-variant working group, which developed the proposal over the last year. “I feel very proud of the process.”

The other chair of the group, Metha Brown, told an overflowing room at the park board’s English Bay offices how the proposal could position Vancouver as one of the world’s most trans-friendly jurisdictions and how the board could “produce the most impressive of change rooms.”

Brown’s comments were followed by a litany of support for the project, including from a doctor, a lawyer, a veteran RCMP officer and the city’s advisory committees for women and for children, youth and families.

Andrea Szewchuk, a medical doctor who identifies as gender non-binary, told the board that the project could help trans people stay healthier: “There’s nothing unhealthy about being gender-variant; it’s the unhealthy spaces.”

Adrienne Smith, who is transgender and genderqueer, told the board, “Every time I go to a place where I need to change, I have to make this ugly choice between facing possible violent confrontation and feeling like I am lying.”

Tristan Chapman, another speaker, said he had to quit sports after university because of the difficulty he had fitting in.

“Supporting initiatives such as universal change rooms does not present a threat or disadvantage to anyone,” Chapman said. “This report offers a chance for the City of Vancouver to stand with those in society who are routinely bullied and demonstrate we are the welcoming and progressive city we often claim to be.”

The one real voice of dissent at the meeting was Jamie Lee Hamilton, a transsexual activist and representative of COPE, who, though she supported the recommendations overall, argued that the report neglected transsexual people and failed to provide enough consultation.

“This report should be viewed as a starting point, and not a finished product,” she said. Hamilton said the proposal was insensitive to transsexual people who want to live their chosen lives discreetly, rather than as gender-variant.

The “trans people welcome” language proposed for change-room signs is discriminatory and offensive, she argued, and akin to placing a sign reading “Asians welcome” or “blacks welcome” on a door.

She went on to quote a transsexual friend as saying, “I didn’t get dragged by my wig out of a woman’s washroom to see segregation again 35 years later.”

Park board commissioner Constance Barnes described Hamilton’s complaints as “interesting language” and challenged her to come up with concrete solutions or suggestions for the proposal.

Dennis said Hamilton had been invited to participate in the consultation process but had not shown up.

The final proposal has changed slightly from the working group’s earlier draft. The new proposal will pilot changes to change-room signs more slowly, starting with one or two pools at a time. Dennis says the change is because of some local media outlets’ strong and inaccurate reactions to the sign policy in the draft proposal.

The proposal will now be handed over to a committee of community members and park board staff to be implemented. Dennis says the first measures, including more all-body swims and new signs, will start this fall.