An open letter from the Third Space

Opinions

Dear Martlet staff,

Thank you for your recent article on our policy changes and the anti-transgender hate group that has targeted our centre. At the end of the article I mentioned that the current board can do a lot more to make this campus a good place for transgender and non-binary people. I think we can all do a lot more on that score. I wanted to write today to elaborate on that.

It is true that those who are actively trying to stop transgender and non-binary people from accessing our student resources are a small group of people that is trying to look like a much bigger group of people. The majority of students who use our centre welcome these policy changes and also understand that our longtime role as a women’s centre has fundamentally involved providing resources to transgender women because they are women. However, this does not mean that the majority of people on campus (or in our centre) have it all figured out when it comes to the treatment of transgender and non-binary people. The rhetoric that informs that relatively small anti-transgender group does not exist in a vacuum. Discrimination against transgender and non-binary people happens every day in ways which are so commonplace that they have become far more difficult to call out and change than pointing one’s finger at a hate group.

Discrimination has created a disparity in the quality of student experience for transgender and non-binary people. Two places where there is room for improvement from the university are bathrooms and counselling availability. The University of Victoria does not have an adequate number of gender-neutral bathrooms throughout campus, creating a situation in which many students must go through the day without regular access to a bathroom. Gender neutral bathrooms are a necessity for students who risk facing violence if they are perceived to have entered the “wrong” bathroom. A few years ago the UVSS Student Union Building recognized this and turned half of their multi-stall bathrooms into gender neutral bathrooms. This allows access to the bathroom for those who require gender-neutral bathrooms while still accommodating people who prefer boy’s and girl’s bathrooms, and improved the quality of the student experience for many people. A similar model could be applied throughout the entire campus.

In my role coordinating this student centre, I have heard from multiple transgender and non-binary students that their interactions with counselling services have been negative. From what I have heard, the counsellors are not adequately educated on providing services to this demographic. People who come in for counselling often have to give a basic education to their counsellor or face ignorant comments from those who are supposed to be helping them. The tragic irony here is that transgender and non-binary students are more likely to require access to counselling than other students due to the trauma they are more likely to face. Transfeminine people (meaning transgender people who have a feminine gender expression) are especially likely to be targeted for violence and harassment. The issue of accessible, appropriate counselling is in need of urgent redress. This problem is relatively easy to alleviate; counsellors could be educated on the unique aspects of service provision for transgender and non-binary people.

One step we can all take is to educate ourselves and listen. We can educate ourselves about discriminatory tropes about transgender and non-binary people so that we can identify and challenge that logic in the world and in ourselves.

I am grateful to the many transgender and non-binary people who have shared their experiences with me, which has helped me better understand how to be supportive. I still have a lot of learning to do. For any readers who want to get more involved, I suggest getting in touch with UVic Pride (and specifically their Transfeminine Inclusion Working Group).

Thanks again for covering this important topic.

Kay Gallivan is the communications and outreach coordinator at the Third Space.