As transgender people across the world assert their right to use public washrooms, a trans woman from Hamilton, Ontario, is taking the fight to the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario after allegedly being barred from using the women’s washroom at a Hamilton bus terminal.
In a story first broke by the Hamilton Spectator, the woman, who does not wish to be identified and has not responded to Daily Xtra’s requests for comment, was allegedly told by a security guard at the MacNab Bus Terminal in downtown Hamilton to use the men’s or accessible bathroom, rather than the women’s bathroom.
Poe Liberado, the claimant’s litigation guardian, told Daily Xtra that the woman arrived in tears to Liberado’s office at The Well, Hamilton’s LGBTQ community wellness centre, shortly after the incident took place in October 2014.
“Immediately we wrote a letter together to the city asking for a response to the incident,” Liberado says.
Though representatives for the City of Hamilton did apologize for the incident, Liberado says they did not acknowledge any wrongdoing.
“The City responded that it was an unfortunate incident and that the security guard was trying to balance the rights of everyone involved, including the women that were currently occupying the bathroom,” Liberado says, “with the assumption that they would be uncomfortable using the bathroom with a trans woman.” Liberado declined to provide a copy of the response letter to Daily Xtra.
Spokespeople for the City of Hamilton and the Hamilton Street Railway (HSR) have not responded to Daily Xtra’s request for comment. In a statement provided to the Spectator, City of Hamilton spokesperson Mike Kirkopoulos said that it recognizes the rights of trans people and is committed to not forcing a trans person to use a separate bathroom because of the preferences of others.
That led the woman to decide to make a complaint to the tribunal, according to Liberado, who added that the woman is not seeking any financial compensation — just assurance that the HSR will follow the letter of the law.
Toby’s Act, the legislation that added gender identity and expression to the Ontario Human Rights Code, provides protection for people who may be discriminated against for simply using a bathroom.
A spokesperson for the tribunal confirmed that proceedings have started, but could not release any more details about the case.
Liberado says that situations like this are not uncommon in Hamilton, having encountered several similar ones while working at The Well. “It constantly happens to women in Hamilton, especially trans women,” Liberado says.
Transgender people worldwide continue to face discrimination and harassment over which bathroom they use.
The Guardian reported on March 24 that three US states — Texas, Florida and Kentucky — are now considering legislation that would make it illegal for people to use a bathroom for the gender other than the one they were assigned at birth.
And earlier this year in Ottawa, Conservative Senator Don Plett amended Bill C-279, which would have added gender identity to the Canadian Human Rights Act, so that it did not include washrooms or sex-segregated areas in federally-run facilities.
In response to Plett’s amendment, Brae Carnes, a transgender woman from Victoria, BC, started taking photos of herself in men’s bathrooms to show the dangers transgender people face if they are forced into using a bathroom based on the gender they were assigned at birth. Her campaign has since gone international, with people around the world taking similar photos and posting them on social media.