As seen in Georgia Straight; Vancouver transgender inclusion report excludes transsexuals, activists say

Trans and gender-variant inclusion working group criticized for recommendations

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.”