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Vancouver parks board wants to make its spaces more trans-friendly

Motion to create a working group passes unanimously

Parks board commissioner Trevor Loke (centre, with Drew Dennis and Metha Brown) hopes the city's new trans-friendly working group will set an example for other jurisdictions. Credit: Audrey McKinnon photo

Trans and gender-variant Vancouverites may soon feel more welcome in the city’s parks, pools and community centres after parks board commissioners voted unanimously May 13 to create a working group to make those spaces more inclusive.

The working group, introduced by commissioner Trevor Loke, will report back to the parks board with specific recommendations by April 1, 2014.

“We have a very wide jurisdiction at the park board,” Loke says. “We manage over 200 parks, all the community centres, pools, rinks, the seawall, the beaches. What we know is that not everyone feels welcome in all these spaces, and that’s an unfortunate thing.”

Loke says the working group will help determine what barriers trans and gender-variant people encounter when trying to use Vancouver’s public facilities. He hopes the report sets an example for other jurisdictions, too.
The working group will look at signage, public spaces such as washrooms and change rooms, and staff training, policies and programming with an eye to making them more inclusive.

Vancouver’s LGBTQ advisory committee has been examining the issue since 2010, say members Drew Dennis and Metha Brown.

“We were looking at the LGBTQ and really felt that T was often left out,” Dennis says.

Community member Rachel Andrus welcomed the motion to create the working group.

Andrus was one of 17 members of the public to speak to the motion at the parks board meeting. All but one of the speakers supported the motion, saying trans and gender-variant people need help to feel safe from scrutiny and, at times, physical harm in places like change rooms, public washrooms, swimming pools and gyms.

Andrus told the meeting about a security guard who, back in the early stage of her transition, approached her as she exited a washroom at Simon Fraser University’s downtown campus. She said the security guard grabbed her arm and asked for identification.

“I was utterly humiliated and made to feel like no human being should be made to feel. Out of fear, I refused to produce my identification, and the security guard refused to let go of my arm, grabbing me so hard that he left a mark,” Andrus said.

The new working group will also look at “all-bodies” programming. That means swimming programs that are trans-inclusive such as the All-Bodies Swim, which hosts an event every six weeks at Templeton Park Pool. The current program runs independently of the parks board and welcomes people of all body shapes and sizes, including gender-variant people.

“One of the pivotal focuses of the All-Bodies Swim is to engage many marginalized communities and individuals to get us all out in the community together in settings that we otherwise would likely not access,” says organizer Theo Jakob.

Jakob says the event has drawn as many as 181 participants and no fewer than 52 and may reach capacity this summer. “We would love to see more programming happening in more places in the city,” he says.

While the overwhelming majority of speakers were in favour of the motion, there was one audience member who disagreed. Eleanor Hadley said that discretion should be enough to make everyone feel comfortable. “Why should I know whether you’re transgendered or otherwise?” she asked. At 91 years old, she says, she hasn’t always been exposed to these kinds of issues.

“I feel a bit ashamed that there have been difficulties using our facilities,” commissioner Sarah Blyth said.

Her sentiments were echoed by commissioner Aaron Jasper, who choked up as he expressed his support for the motion.

The unanimous vote in favour of creating the working group was heralded by a standing ovation from the audience and the board.

Dennis says the next step will be to put out a call to people interested in becoming involved with the working group, which should happen next week.