Human Rights Office: Transgender/Transsexual: Contents: Challenging
Trans Accessibility Project:
Challenging The Barriers
Challenging the barriers that exclude transgendered women from shelters requires an acknowledgement of the need for services, an awareness of the obstacles to service-provision, and a willingness to remove those barriers. However, the process of addressing discrimination against transgendered people must be, and is being, addressed on many different levels: through legal challenges to Human Rights Commissions, through community development, in individual organizations and on a personal level.
It is within this greater context that shelters must be placed. The political, social and personal struggle against transphobic discrimination is well underway. Organizations are fighting discrimination against transgendered people in all facets of life. Making shelters accessible is one step along the way.
At the time of this writing, discussions are under way as how best to address discrimination against transgendered people in the Human Rights Code. Some cases of discrimination are being fought and won on the ground of sex. In other cases, discrimination against transgendered people has been prohibited on the basis of disability. Recommendations have also been made to include "gender identity" in the code as a prohibited ground for discrimination.
Existing human rights legislation protects trans-gendered people but it is likely that more specific protections will be included in the future (although the exact wording is not known). We can anticipate that women's services will not be exempt.
If a pre op transsexual, a post op transsexual, a butch lesbian, and a person who identifies as pangendered are all kicked out of the same washroom on the same day because a non-trans woman has complained to security that there are men in the washroom, should all of them be able to file a human rights complaint? The answer was a resounding yes. For one thing, from the point of view of the person doing the discriminating, they (literally) can't tell the difference! (Christine Burnham, 1999, p. 1)Community development, or coalition-building, is about finding common ground and uniting to fight common problems. Globally, numerous transgender organizations have been formed to work for change. Some are working to change human rights legislation, some are improving access to appropriate medical care and other services, some are essentially educational in nature, and others provide support and organize social events (see Chapter 8 for a list of some of these groups).
Alliances among various community groups and organizations are also being formed. For example, many gay, lesbian, and bisexual groups are adding "transgendered" to both their titles and their mandates. Some municipalities, corporations and universities are including "gender identity" in their anti-discrimination clauses.
There is a natural alliance to be forged between transgender communities and women's communities. There is much common ground between the two groups and much to be gained for both in working together. Shelters can participate in community development by forming alliances with groups and individuals in their communities who are already addressing these issues.
Most shelters in the survey have policies on racism, sexism, HIV discrimination and homophobia; but, few currently have policies in place to combat transphobia.
In addition, some shelters listed anti-discrimination policies on the following grounds, thus paralleling provincial and federal human rights legislation:
Some shelters wonder if it is reasonable to expect non- transgendered residents to understand transgender issues. It is true that women come to the shelter from all walks of life, politics and experiences. They come to escape abusive, desperate situations; and they come for safety and support, not to get a political education or to expand their social horizons. However, we know that having been abused does not give one license to discriminate against others on the basis of ability, colour, or sexual identity. Transphobia will simply become another form of discrimination that is not tolerated. Incorporating provisions concerning transphobia is not different from adding anti-racist or anti-homophobic policies and procedures. In assessing the existing strengths of your organization, it is important to recognize that you already have the building blocks needed to achieve your objectives.
Anti-discrimination training is intended to reduce the likelihood of discriminatory treatment of transgendered people; but anti-discrimination work requires inclusion, not simply an absence of discriminatory behaviour. There are several concrete ways in which a shelter can create a trans-friendly environment; one that is welcoming and comfortable for transgendered women. Most shelters will need to increase the range of resources available for transgendered and nontransgendered residents and staff (see Chapter 8). Existing literature (pamphlets, booklets) may need to be revised to include transgendered women and/or new materials developed. Similarly, pictures, symbols and posters convey who is welcome in your organization. Trans-inclusive images not only educate nontransgendered residents and staff but signal to transgendered women that there is a place for them in your organization. Anti-discrimination training can take many forms; including, attending formal workshops and informal discussions, reading books and pamphlets, watching videos or viewing visual images of gender diversity.
Policy development is an essential component in making a shelter accessible. However, policy development without anti-discrimination training and outreach to transgendered communities is problematic. A policy alone will neither make the shelter truly accessible, nor ensure that transgendered women receive supportive services.
One of the challenges in policy development is ensuring that new policies do not conflict with existing policies or philosophies of the organization. Thus, creating policies in this area may seem complicated because of the confusion between "gender" and "gender identity." As it stands, shelters are mandated to provide services to women and can legally exclude men. Including transgendered women does not change this situation, nor are we suggesting that it should. While shelters can continue to deny access to services based on gender (no men), they cannot do so on the basis of gender identity (female).
Related to this is the question of identifying a woman. How do you know if the person at your door is a woman and will your policy require some form of gender verification for residents? If so, there is a great risk of violating other policies or philosophies relating to the dignity and privacy of residents. For example, what might gender verification be based on: appearance, legal or medical documentation, or visual inspection? Will all service-users be subjected to this gender verification or only those who do not appear stereotypically feminine in the eyes of the shelter worker completing the intake form? Will this policy inadvertently reinforce sexism? Additional questions for consideration are posed in Chapter 7 (Policy Development).
We suggest that the following four types of clauses be considered for your trans-inclusive policy:
The majority of shelters already have anti-discrimination clauses in relation to race, AIDS, sexual orientation and disabilities, among others. The non-discrimination clause can state that the shelter will not discriminate on the basis of gender identity (or gender identity and gender presentation) nor tolerate such discrimination. This means that if a person self-identifies as a woman, she will be considered a woman by the shelter.
While recognizing that most shelters do not have the means to ensure private rooms for anyone, shelters do need to determine the extent to which they can accommodate a transgendered woman's need and desire for privacy (in changing, showering, etc.). The legal right of people not to be unwillingly exposed to the genitals of the opposite sex should be considered in policy development. However, keep in mind that transgendered women are likely to be just as, if not more, modest about their bodies as other women. This will be an issue for non-op or pre-op transgendered women if there is no opportunity for them to change or bathe in private.
Dignity, privacy and confidentiality are essential for all residents Just as sexual orientation, HIV status and other personal information disclosed in counselling is considered to be confidential, so too is a woman's transgender status. Existing confidentiality provisos can be updated to include a statement about a woman's transgender status. Unfortunately when a new issue is encountered, even the most well-meaning people can find themselves shifting, usually solid, boundaries. Fascination with the area, or the novelty of working with a "known" transgendered woman, may tempt some workers to breach confidentiality. The dangers of outing a transgendered person are discussed in Chapter 7 (Counselling Issues).
Without outreach work, you could spend a lot of time and energy getting ready to provide services and never have anyone show up! Creating inclusive policies and offering anti-transphobia training is futile if the accessibility of your organization is not known in transgender communities and other social service agencies. Be persistent in your outreach efforts. It can take time to build relationships and trust where none has existed in the past.
Transgender communities have reason to feel suspicious of women's organizations and may need to see sustained effort to believe that they will find safety and support in our organizations. As with all outreach work, if first you fail, try again with another strategy.
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