A task force commissioned by the Vancouver Park Board is recommending measures to make all genders feel safe and comfortable at recreation centres across the city – and that means more than just changing washroom signs.
Drop-in programs geared to community members with non-conforming genders, single change booths, and additional gender options on registration and application forms are some of the proposals in the report.
The Vancouver Park Board will vote on the recommendations by the city’s Trans* and Gender-Variant Inclusion Working Group on April 28. The report is the result of a period of community consultation that began in October, 2013.
“What we heard is that for many people, myself included, that don’t easily or conveniently fit into narrow definitions of gender – whether that be male or female – accessing public washrooms and change rooms can be a real challenge,” said Drew Dennis, co-chair of the group.
The report lists “quick starts” – recommendations that can be implemented within three to six months – which include installing universal signage for all single-stall washrooms and booths in change rooms.
Another “quick start” project would be drop-in swimming for transgender and gender-variant community members, supporters, friends and families. Dennis, who doesn’t use a gender-specific honorific, said Templeton Park Pool was chosen because it is already host to All Bodies Swim, a volunteer group that organizes inclusive nights at local public pools. All Bodies Swim organizes events at Templeton every six weeks. Dennis said these new initiatives will allow for trans and gender variant people to access centres more frequently.
“The only time they’re going into a community centre, the only time that they’re swimming is at those All Bodies Swims. So obviously if you’re going once every six weeks that’s not really part of an active routine,” Dennis said.
Theo Jakob, volunteer member of the working group, said these initiatives will benefit more than just trans and gender-variant folks.
“We are hoping that more individual, universal change rooms will create space for trans and gender-variant folks to feel safe, but also folks who are experiencing disabilities, or who have multiple children or who need a bit more time get changed. We see [the washrooms] as something that will benefit many stakeholders in our community, including and in particular trans and gender-variant folks.”
The report also includes priorities with a one-year timeline, such as additional gender options on forms, and priorities with a two- to three-year timeline. These include having all people in volved in service delivery receive training on how to support trans and gender-variant patrons.
“What we heard loud and clear from staff was one, they want the tools and language so that they can be dealing with people respectfully, and two, they wanted to know the policies and protocols and what was expected,” Dennis said.
The long-term priority listed in the report, with a timeline of four to 10 years, is having universal change rooms and washroom options available in all Vancouver Park Board facilities.
Tami Starlight, executive director of the Vancouver Transgender Day of Remembrance Society, welcomed the recommendations. Starlight said some community members may resist the change at first.
“One time white-only spaces existed and it was the norm, and when people pushed for fully inclusive spaces there was a lot of backlash and a lot of people were confused because they were accustomed to the way things were. There’s going to be some anxiety and animosity towards this societal change.”
But Starlight is hopeful. “We as a society can work together through whatever hiccups may happen.”