Ty Laframboise used to love wrestling.

He wrestled in high school. When he entered McMaster University as a full-time student, he dreamed of wrestling there. He loved competing, and he found solace in bonding with his teammates.

Then that recurring issue — which washroom and change room a person who's transgender uses — took down his dreams.

'It's always something I'm looking to get back into. It's just a matter of how.' - Ty Laframboise 

"I always miss it," said the 25-year-old, who co-ordinates a support group for other trans youth. "It's always something I'm looking to get back into. It's just a matter of how."

Laframboise told his story at a city committee meeting Monday as he watched politicians debate a new protocol for how the city deals with people who are transgender and gender non-conforming. City council will vote Wednesday whether to ratify it.

The protocol includes, among other elements, that transgender people can use change rooms and washrooms based on their gender identity, not the gender on their birth certificate.

Nicole Nussbaum

The city's new policy is progressive, says Nicole Nussbaum, a lawyer and advocate for transgender rights. But "it also reflects the existing state of the law." (Samantha Craggs/CBC)

​Wrestling was a life goal for Laframboise when at 18, he became a full-time social work and sociology student at McMaster. As soon as he could, he started wrestling there.

'It's a little tiring to always have it be about the washroom and the change room.' - Will Rowe

But the first day, he said, there were two mats — one for men, one for women.

As Laframboise transitioned, he said, he told his coaches.

"I said, 'I don't identify as a woman. I identify as a man,'" he said. And he wanted to use the male change rooms and wrestle with the men.

He quickly found he didn't fit in on either side. Male wrestlers didn't want to wrestle him, he said. In the women's change room, he said, he'd try to slip in and out, eyes down, changing in a single stall and doing his best not to make anyone uncomfortable.

"I didn't quit immediately because it is my passion," he said. But eventually, he had to leave.

Colleen McTigue

"It’s something that’s very frightening for the transgender individual," says Colleen McTigue, who spoke on Monday. (Samantha Craggs/CBC)

He spiraled into depression, he said. He hasn't played sports since. He'd still like to wrestle, but the university experience created deep-rooted anxiety.

Such anxiety was a common theme among the transgender speakers Monday. Colleen McTigue still remembers in vivid detail the first time she used the ladies room.

'Making these protections explicit really serves a great value in terms of maintaining expectations, and letting everyone know that trans people are part of our society and part of our communities.' - Nicole Nussbaum, lawyer and trans advocate

"It's something that's very frightening for the transgender individual," she said.

"Despite our best efforts not to call attention to ourselves — despite our best efforts to pass, for want of a better term — sometimes people will notice something in our mannerisms, something in our speech, and call us out."

Opponents of the policy say it puts women and children at risk. Predators could use it to enter any washroom or change room, they said, and victimize people.

That was Jim Enos of the Christian Heritage Party's point when he spoke Monday. Enos also placed an ad in three local bus shelters making that point. The city removed them. Enos says that violated his charter rights.

More likely the victim

Cole Gately, a local transgender activist, said it's actually transgender and gender non-conforming people who face the highest risk in public restrooms.

'The issue of trans athletes is one that the university sporting associations and governing bodies need to consider and address.' - Glen Grunwald, director of athletics and recreation

Fellow activist Will Rowe agreed, and said frankly, people who are transgender are tired of talking about this.

"Trans people don't spend 100 per cent of our time in washrooms," Rowe said to chuckles from the audience.

"It's a little tiring to always have it be about the washroom and the change room."

The protocol, too, is about more than washrooms, but that is where it started.

It's already part of Canadian law

In 2014, a transgender woman tried to use the women's washroom at the MacNab bus terminal. A guard stopped her and told her to use the unisex washroom. The woman filed an Ontario Human Rights tribunal complaint.

The city settled it, and as part of that settlement, has to establish a protocol.

While many praised the city's move Monday, the concept isn't a radical one, said Nicole Nussbaum, a lawyer and advocate for transgender rights. A person's ability to use a public washroom or change room that accords with their gender identity has been part of Canadian law for about 20 years.

But the protocol is useful, she said.

"Making these protections explicit really serves a great value in terms of maintaining expectations, and letting everyone know that trans people are part of our society and part of our communities."

'I'll be sure to raise this as we go forward'

For its part, McMaster says it wants to do better too.

"I was not here at the time, and I am disappointed and disheartened to hear of Ty's concerns," Glen Grunwald, director of athletics and recreation, said in an email Tuesday.

"We want to make sure all students feel there is a place on campus for them. Currently, men and women wrestlers at McMaster do actually train and wrestle together. I think the issue of trans athletes is one that the university sporting associations and governing bodies need to consider and address. I'll be sure to raise this as we go forward."


Other elements of the transgender and gender non-conforming protocol

  • When possible, the city will provide unisex, single-stall washrooms or change rooms, but will not force anyone to use them.
  • Disclosing someone's gender identity or transition without their consent or knowledge is a form of harassment and discrimination under the Ontario Human Rights Code. This goes for city employees as well as when the city deals with the public.
  • In both cases people "must be referred to by their preferred name, gender and pronoun."
  • City employees should use inclusive language while interacting with the public — eg. "people" instead of "men and women," or "they" instead of "he" and "she."
  • City employees should think about whether gender information is necessary before they ask the public to provide it. Ideally, instead of "male" or "female" check boxes, there will be a blank space for the person to write in their gender.

samantha.craggs@cbc.ca | @SamCraggsCBC