Thursday, November 8, 2012

The Transgender Community and The You Can Play Project

Early this morning (on West Coast time anyway), I had a brief conversation via Twitter with Patrick Burke, co-founder and President of the You Can Play Project dedicated to combating homophobia in sports.  The conversation began when Burke said that a part of the project has, and will continue to be focused on working with fans, i.e. to combat homophobia in sports arenas (and through that in sports fandom as a whole).

I then asked if it would be within the scope of You Can Play's mission to also work on behalf of the transgender community.  Transgender individuals often find themselves in a difficult situation in sports arenas.  Unisex bathrooms are few and far between, often full, and typically "supposed" to be used by families.  That leaves transgender individuals with the unenviable task of choosing between the restroom of their birth gender (which is what they are legally supposed to do in most states) or choosing between the gender they identify as, present as, or to put it more bluntly (and offensively), most resemble.  That conversation went as follows (I have adjusted some of the character-limit-driven poor grammar and abbreviations):

Me - Would it also be in the scope of your mission to ensure more transgender-friendly facilities such as bathrooms?

Burke - Explain the issue for me? Is it for those who are transitioning?

Me - Often transgender individuals, at any point in the process of transitioning, don't feel comfortable in restrooms of either gender and unisex bathrooms are few, and almost always full.  Also, laws in many states mandate post-(beginning hormone treatments), pre-surgery transgender individuals use bathrooms of their birth gender, when they don't look the part.

Burke - Interesting. Let me think on it. Would be nice if it was something we could fix, but to be blunt, it may be a tough sell from a cost/benefit perspective to a team building a new arena. May require creativity on this one. Would appreciate any insight you might have for an acceptable solution.

Butting in to speak specifically on the call for creativity, something like Washington DC's Transgender and Gender Identity Respect ad campaign might work well.

I'm a transgender _______ and I am a _______ (or simply 'a hockey') fan.
Me - Yes, the problem is the laws that are lagging behind, but more unisex restrooms would be a big plus, as would teams having transgender-affirming policies/statements at least letting transgender individuals know they're welcome and safe in the building(s).

Burke - Statements/policies are what we're developing with leagues now. Bathroom issue is a new one for me, but glad to be aware of it. Something we will have to talk about. Currently unisex bathrooms are being added to arenas for families, I believe.  So maybe we can see an expansion of them through that.

Many transgender individuals shun gender-segregated public bathrooms altogether because they don't feel comfortable using either bathroom.  They're afraid people will call foul if they don't look the part of whichever they use, and the involvement of authority figures usually results in probing, insulting, and degrading inquiries about their genitalia.

As Burke said, this is a tough problem to address given the difficulties in modifying existing NHL arenas to accommodate more unisex restrooms.  While I think having more of these facilities is the best solution, I think there are many other good solutions.  A large part of the fear coming from transgender individuals is that the authority figures that are supposed to be helpful will be either unwilling or not trained properly to do so.  The transgender community should not have to suffer because many people are still learning about them.

Something that I think would go a long way would be if NHL Arenas reaffirmed that all members of the hockey community are welcome within their confines AND released statements reassuring the LGBT community that their security staff are trained to deal with situations that involve Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, or Transgender individuals.  (Which may be the case already; I have not received a response from the one NHL team I contacted.)

Knowing that the authority figures present are capable of understanding the issues that these hockey fans face and approaching such situations with information, and without bias, I think, would do much to calm the fears of many transgender individuals.

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