There is help available to deal with trans gender issue
Barbara Findlay wrote, “The notion that there are two and only two genders is one of the most basic ideas of our binary, Western way of thinking. Transgender people challenge our very understanding of the world. And we make them pay the cost of our confusion by their suffering.”
The Ontario Human Rights Commission has recently released its Policy on Preventing Discrimination because of Gender Identity and Gender Expression.
Gender identity means each individual’s experience of gender. It is one’s sense of being a woman, a man, both, neither, or anywhere along the gender spectrum. Sometimes, one’s gender identity, how one feels inside, is at odds with the body into which a person was born.
Gender expression is about how a person expresses or presents their gender to the world. This can involve how they dress, keep their hair, wear makeup and their use of body language and voice. A person’s gender identity is fundamentally different and not related to their sexual orientation. For instance, somebody could be born with a man’s body but they identify as a woman. We would appropriately call that person a trans woman. That trans woman may be sexually attracted to men or to women or perhaps both. One’s feelings about which gender one should have been born as does not dictate sexual orientation.
There is no reason for anyone to feel bad about being slightly confused by all of this. It is outside of many people’s “norm” and it takes an effort to understand and empathize.
Trans people are one of the most disadvantaged groups in society. The Commission’s report tells us that they routinely experience prejudice, discrimination, harassment, and even violence. It impacts their daily lives, health and wellbeing.
The Commission’s policy is that everyone has the right to define their own gender identity and that trans people should be recognized and treated as the gender they live in, whether or not they have undergone surgery. A trans person may be going through surgical transition but not yet have had their driver’s license and birth certificate changed. Just because their identity documents are not up to date does not mean that an employer has the right to treat them as anything other than the identity they are expressing and living.
The Commission’s policy is that trans people should have access to washrooms, change rooms, and other gender-specific services and facilities based on their lived gender identity.
The report goes on to state that a trans person should not be required to use a separate washroom or change room because other people express discomfort at sharing the washroom. The Commission does not accept stereotypes about, for example, trans women being a threat to other women as a reason to exclude them. It believes that education and awareness will help dispel these kinds of stereotypes over time. Trans people themselves, not the people they share bathrooms with, are the ones at risk of harassment and violence.
Employers with a written dress code should take a second look. The employer can have a dress code but they need to use gender-inclusive and flexible language. You can list and limit the kinds of clothing that can be worn in the workplace but you cannot dictate which gender has to wear which.
“Trans people and other gender non-conforming individuals should not be treated negatively while at work, school, trying to rent an apartment, shopping, eating a meal in a restaurant, using healthcare services or shelters, dealing with law enforcement and justice services or at any other time.”
For most employers, this is not a daily issue. There is probably nothing that needs to be immediately done to make sure that they are in compliance with human rights legislation. The important point is this: Once the issue arises, understand and recognize that you don’t have to figure this out on your own. There are resources such as the Commission’s policy that will help guide the way. It will help employers not only do the right thing but also avoid legal liability for failing to appropriately accommodate.
As published in The Hamilton Spectator, May 5, 2014