Human Rights Office: Transgender/Transsexual: Contents: Introduction
Trans Accessibility Project:
We recognize that change is difficult and will be more easily made by some, than by others. Therefore, a commitment on the part of the organization, as a whole, is essential. Strong leadership on the part of those in positions of authority can be important in setting the tone. As with other forms of oppression, time is needed to work through both personal and organizational issues. Reading this manual is simply the first step toward changing attitudes, behaviour and policy related to transgendered people. We hope that you will subsequently undertake the steps necessary to create welcoming and inclusive environments for transgendered women.
These reactions and questions are understandable in light of the history of the women's movement and our ongoing struggle for equality. However, it is because of our history that we now have an obligation, and the ability, to revisit gender. We have been challenged, and have challenged ourselves, to recognize the racism, classism, heterosexism and other forms of discrimination that exist within the women's movement. Because we are committed to equality for all women, we continue to work to undo these forms of discrimination and have aligned ourselves with other movements for change. Although definitions of feminism vary widely, most agree that social justice and freedom from oppression for all peoples is the ultimate goal of our work.
The experience of transgendered people is similar to that of many oppressed groups. They grow up feeling isolated; they are often ridiculed in public; they may be assaulted or even murdered because they are transgendered; and they may lose their children and jobs when they self-identify. They may also be sexually and physically assaulted by their partners and, when that happens, they do not have services available to them. Transgendered women cannot make use of services designed for men. These services are inappropriate for women, do not meet their needs, and can be dangerous places for transgendered women. At the same time, most services designed for women are not prepared to accommodate transgendered women.
The impetus for this manual came from our experience working within the women's anti-violence movement for many years, recognition of our own difficulties with issues of transgender in the past, and our current work with the transgender movement. For many of the years that we were involved in the women's movement we questioned the nature of sex differences and gender, the expectations of ourselves and other women, and the socialization of women and men. But we did not seriously question who was a woman or man. However, for the past couple of years, we have both been working in our chosen fields to make services and events accessible to transgendered people: in an HIV/AIDS service, on a university campus, and in our local community. To do this work, we have needed to reconsider our assumptions and to recognize the enormous discrimination that transgendered people suffer. Accessibility to shelters represents just one of the more pressing needs of transgendered people; they are denied access to a wide variety of services.
It is our belief that women's services should be available to transgendered women because it is just, compassionate, and necessary. But legal rulings also suggest that women's services may have no choice in the future. Two recent human rights decisions in Canada stated that transgendered women (in the process of transitioning3) are entitled to protection against discrimination on the basis of sex and/or disability. Among other things, this means that they cannot be denied services or employment in women's organizations. Although these decisions are based on specific cases, they indicate a legal trend that is likely to continue. This manual is designed to help prepare women's shelters to offer services to transgendered women.
There are several substantial issues that we do not address in this text. One is that of transgendered staff. Although implementing the suggestions in this manual should benefit all transgendered shelter members, there are specific employment issues for transgendered staff that we do not discuss. Our decision to exclude this area was based on a need to limit the breadth and volume of this resource. There are some print resources (listed in Chapter 8) which may assist shelters in identifying and meeting the needs of transgendered staff.
In addition, we do not discuss the needs of transgendered men who have been abused or give direction to shelters in this regard. It is a critical issue for women's organizations as some transgendered men work in women's organizations (although they may not be visible), some use the services of women's organizations when necessary, and there are virtually no alternatives for transgendered men. Women's services will need to wrestle with the social and political implications of providing services to a person with a male identity but who may have been abused because of a female body. Again, we felt a need to limit the scope of this writing and chose to maintain the focus on transgendered women.
We have tried to provide enough information to start shelters on the road to increasing accessibility but this manual is a general, certainly not the definitive, resource on transgender issues. It is a first step, focussing on a particular gap in services, toward making all services accessible to transgendered people.
1 For the purposes of this manual, a transgendered woman is defined as a person who identifies as a woman, though born biologically male. We are including transgenderist and transsexual women in this definition.
2 In addition to transgendered women who may work with the shelter, many transgendered men find lesbian feminist communities the most comfortable fit prior to transitioning and, therefore, may be associated with women's services as staff or volunteers.
3 Transitioning is the process of moving into the life associated with one's gender identity; here, specifically refers to medical sex reassignment.
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