Misgendering at Service Canada

Sam Wall | News Editor

Two Service Canada locations in northern BC have come under fire for inappropriately dealing with clients who are transgender. According to Northern Pride Centre President Krystal Vandenberg, a friend of theirs was misgendered by a front end worker at the Prince George location of Service Canada. In discussing this, Vandenberg learned that someone else had a very similar experience at the Prince Rupert location. Vandenberg went on to create a video about the issue, and wrote a letter to the editor which was published in the Prince George Citizen. Over The Edge connected with Vandenberg over messenger to get their thoughts on the situation, how it should be resolved, the impacts that this behaviour has on transgender people, and how citizens can support their transgender community.

In recounting this event, Vandenberg said: “My friend went into the PG Service Canada location to change her name and gender markers on her ID. While there, the front end worker misgendered her (using male pronouns, calling her sir, etc.) as well as deadnaming (the act of referring to usually a birth name that an individual no does not go by) her. Even after being corrected and asked to use female pronouns as well as my friend’s proper name, Service Canada refused. This continued for an hour and a half. When my friend expressed being upset, the workers got upset with her and acted like she was to blame for them misgendering her.”

Issues such as this can have deep impacts on the transgender community, especially in more isolated areas such as northern BC. Vandenberg says that personal effects on transgender people can include “…isolation, anxiety, depression, etc. that statistically occurs in the transgender community.” Vandenberg also delves into the difficulties of being transgender in a northern community: “Due to the lack of resources in Northern BC, it becomes even harder to know where trans-friendly spaces are. If a government agency is not accommodating, why should other agencies be? It sends a message to the public that misgendering and deadnaming trans people is OK. That treating them as less than is OK. As I stated in my video, it also causes barriers to transition if people choose to transition. This barrier can then create barriers to employment and housing. Northern BC tends to be on the conservative side and I have known trans people [who were] rejected for jobs because their ID and gender don’t match, and since this isn’t protected yet in Canada, it is considered OK. I’ve also known people who have refused to come out as trans in Prince George because they can’t safely be who they are.”

After the video and letter to the editor were released, Vandenberg received some response from Service Canada: “I’ve received one email from Service Canada themselves and the other emails are from a worker. The one from the Prince George branch was a simple, ‘we would like to talk to the person involved.’ It was not much and until something active is done, I don’t view it as much. The email from the worker is more proactive and that I’m satisfied with. She is working with the Pride Network which was created to educate front end workers at Service Canada about LGBTQ issues. She has assured me that this has been brought up to Service Canada HR and has asked for input about what should be included in a training manual. An email that shows the organization doing something about inequality is much more satisfying than the robotic, ‘can we talk to the individual.’ Own up to your mistake and make necessary changes.”

When asked about how they believe Service Canada should handle this incident, Vandenberg said, “Apologize first and foremost and do so publicly. It’s easy to hide behind emails but hard to recognize when your organization has made a mistake. Be willing to undergo LGBTQ training especially with respect to trans issues. When a front end worker misgenders or dead names someone, they need to correct themselves and move on. There is no reason to continue using the wrong pronouns and the wrong name. If these are [addressed as] an apology, it will show people that they are willing to rectify their wrongs. Then they need to follow through.”

Finally, Vandeberg provided several suggestions for how citizens can support transgender people and help them feel safe: “Stand up to transphobia. When someone misgenders or dead names someone, correct them. If you have the privilege and platform to do so, bring inequalities like this to the public’s eye. Educate yourself. There are lots of resource online, the Prince George Public Library has some wonderful books, and the Northern Pride Centre is always willing to help out. Don’t put the onus on trans people to educate you.

‘If you run a business, it can be something as simple making your single stalled washrooms gender neutral, or if you have multi-stalled washrooms, put up a sign saying [to] use the washroom you are comfortable with. On paperwork, let people check of the gender they are and if it is outside the binary, include an other box with a write in option. Also allow preferred names on your forms. Sometimes legal names and preferred names don’t match up and some laws do require legal names but that does not mean you can’t have both. And watch out for transphobic language. Things like equating men to penises or women to vaginae don’t make your space welcoming. This isn’t an exhaustive list and it is a basic list but we all have to start somewhere. Utilize the resources you have to become a better trans ally.