A TD Bank Group employee shut out a Toronto trans woman from her bank accounts and credit card because he didn’t like the sound of her voice on the phone, the woman alleges.
“I got locked out of all my accounts because . . . my voice wasn’t completely perfect,” says Emily-Rose Kinsley, a self-employed business owner. “He was calling me ‘ma’am’ but then switched to ‘sir,’” she says. “[He] refused access [to my records] and then called me a man because of my voice and said that I was being locked out . . . [he] didn’t even ask me my security questions,” she claims.
Kinsley says TD’s customer service representatives refused to listen to her when she called back and appeared to have no awareness of trans issues. “I even told them I was transsexual, and they just hung up,” she explains. “I was shocked; it made me cry.”
Without access to her money, Kinsley was at a loss. “I couldn’t eat or smoke or anything for two days.” She says she used to trust TD with her money “but not anymore.”
“They made me cry; they made me scared to be me. They told me I was a guy. I can’t trust anyone who would treat me with such disrespect.”
Many trans women, depending on what age they transitioned, have already experienced the testosterone-based puberty typically associated with boys growing into men. Whereas trans men (who were designated female at birth) can gain a deepened voice from testosterone treatments, estrogen cannot reverse or “heighten” a voice for trans women if it’s already become deep (facial hair works by similar rules).
Although there are throat and larynx surgeries designed to alter the voices of trans women to make them sound more conventionally feminine, these surgeries are risky, they leave visible scars and they don’t guarantee good results. Also, like all surgical treatments related to gender identity, they are difficult to access and can be prohibitively expensive.
Some trans women can adjust their natural speaking voices on their own, through practice or by guided speech therapy, but not all trans women are able to — or even want to.
“Why should I have to be in a constant state of panic over how my voice sounds?” complains trans activist Christine Newman, who describes her voice as “low and throaty, like Lauren Bacall, naturally.” She says the need to “pass constantly,” for transgender people to fit into an expected set of standards based on how cisgender people look and sound, is unfair.
“It’s one more expectation put upon trans people [to be just like cis people] instead of just being able to be yourself,” she says.
Eventually, Kinsley regained access to her money. “It took me five attempts, and five hangups, to get any help,” she explains. She says someone from TD told her that they have annotated her computer file in a way that “outs” her without her consent: “All my accounts now say I’m a deep-voiced transsexual,” she reports. “That is not okay.”
Newman agrees. “I personally find it disturbing that you are forced to be outed as trans just so some call-centre rep doesn’t lock out all your banking because you don’t sound like your proper gender.”
Kinsley is not the only transgender customer who has had problems with TD. Sam (who asked that Xtra use only her first name) reports an almost identical experience. “I had forgotten my PIN number and been locked out of my bank account. So I called [TD customer service]. They asked me security questions, which I knew the answers to.” Despite passing the standard security test, Sam says she was still refused phone service.
“They said I had to go in to the bank,” she says. Unlike Kinsley, Sam had a backup account at a different bank, so she had other options. When she did visit her branch, she says, she was told “there was a note on my account saying a guy called in pretending to be (me), and we locked the account.” Sam also reports that her bank manager insisted on adding a notation to the file, saying she is a transgender woman.
“TD is a proud supporter of the LGBT community,” says Ron Puccini, senior manager of diversity at TD. TD Canada Trust is a major annual sponsor of Pride Toronto, including 2014’s WorldPride, and routinely runs pro-gay and -lesbian banking advertisements during the Pride season.
Despite the experiences reported by both Kinsley and Sam, Puccini says that “we do not practise putting personal information on customer profiles that ‘outs’ them.” However, he does not deny that TD judges callers on the quality of their voices: “In order to prevent fraud against our customers, TD uses a variety of best practices, including voice authentication.”
In 2011, a gay man in Vancouver told Xtra that he was denied access to his account after a call centre representative mistook his voice for a woman’s.
At that time, TD spokesperson Suzanna Cohen apologized for the “bad service.”
“We don’t want this type of situation to happen. People shouldn’t have to call and experience this type of frustration and bad service,” she said.
For TD, raising a red flag against uncommonly pitched voices is an effective way of protecting accounts, but Puccini acknowledges that TD doesn’t have a concrete solution for its trans customers.
“We are aware of the recent concerns, and we take them seriously. We also recognize that we don’t get it right every time,” he says. “We are continuously looking at ways to improve our customer service, and this includes looking at ways to improve the customer experience for customers in the transgender community.”
MP Randall Garrison, who is the federal NDP critic on lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and transsexual issues, says that stories like these point to the need for increased protection for transgender people in Canada.
“Banks are regulated federally,” Garrison says. He introduced bill C-279 in 2012, to add gender identity to the Human Rights Act, which would solidify the government’s position against anti-transgender discrimination. That bill hasn’t passed yet, but even without it, Garrison says these women might have a case. “They could [make a complaint against TD] to the Canadian Human Rights Commission, and a decision would be made,” he explains. “But it would certainly be easier to find resolution after 279 passes.”