City of Maple Ridge staff are creating a policy on the use of swimming pool change rooms by transgendered people, following a complaint last week from a young mom.
The woman was taking her daughter to swimming lessons last week when she saw a naked person in the women’s change room in the Maple Ridge Leisure Centre.
The mom said the person was male, though staff later told her the person identified as female.
She’s still bothered however.
“I am deeply upset by this experience,” she said in an e-mail.
“Little girls should not be exposed to adult anatomic males in a public change room.”
The mom stressed that the person was a male and wonders why she would go into the women’s change room.
“For someone who claimed to identify as female, there was no evidence of any feminizing qualities.”
She added that if any gender is allowed in the centr’es change rooms, there should be signs posted in the lobby so people know that.
According to Coun. Kiersten Duncan, current practice says that anybody who self-identifies as a particular gender, can use facilities for that gender.
Duncan is a lifeguard at a swimming pool in Port Coquitlam and says trans-gender people regularly use that facility.
“If somone identifies as that gender, they have the right to use that facility. Everyone has the right to choose their own gender and how they choose to identify. They determine their gender.”
She understands the concern from others but said it’s highly unlikely people will abuse that right. Lifeguards and staff are constantly on the watch for any misbehaviour, she added.
“I’ve never seen someone abuse that. It’s certainly possible … but it’s extremely rare.”
Local schools have already dealt with a similar issue regarding washrooms and in 2015 Maple Ridge secondary added two gender-neutral washrooms. That policy is in place in all Maple Ridge and Pitt Meadows schools.
This includes access to washrooms and change rooms that correspond to the “felt gender identity.
“We have this right regardless of our anatomy,” says Trans Rights BC.
Staff did speak to the individual afterwards and suggested using the private, family change rooms. Staff though didn’t question that the person identified as a woman, said Danielle Pope with the recreation department.
But there’s still no answer on to how deal with a man who may have ulterior motives for going into the women’s change room.
“We’re working through it,” and checking with other cities in the process of creating a policy, Pope said.
“I could see that would be a concern.
“We are encouraging that, if we run into this situation again, we are encouraging that people use the family change room.
However, Vancouver lawyer barbara findlay who has 30 years experience in the area, has never heard of that.
“To my knowledge, I’ve never heard of a circumstance when a cis-gender (non-transgender) man … who says they’re a woman, go into a change room. It just doesn’t happen.”
Findlay said that scenario can’t be solved by denying access to people who identify as women. “Because that would be throwing out the baby with the bath water.”
She said it’s an individual’s gender identity that governs rather than their genitals.
“People are entitled to access public facilities based on their gender identity.”
That’s been the law for many years, she added.
And last year, the provincial government added gender identity as protected under the B.C. Human Rights Code.
“Some people are unfortunately born with genitalia that don’t match who they are. It’s a really difficult situation and is made harder for people if the world around them assumes what’s between their legs is who they are.”
She added there’s never been any account of a trans-person endangering anybody using a public facility.
“Is there a risk that a perverted man might go into the change room? That’s not the fault of trans women.
One option could be for the leisure centre to provide universal change rooms, which have individual changing rooms and stalls, so anyone can use them. Those could be part of the renovations to the pool that begin this September.
New signs that tell people that both genders could be in either change room are also being considered.
“Our number one priority is that our customers feel safe. That’s what we’re aiming for,” Pope said.
“It’s definitely new territory for us and we don’t have any policies in place for that today.”