Edmonton council to ponder LGBTQ2 advisory committee

Edmonton is preparing to create its first LGBTQ2 advisory committee.

'We heard loud and clear from people ... that changes should be made,' researcher says

Mayor Don Iveson waves to the crowds downtown during the Edmonton Pride Festival parade in 2014. (Alicja Siekierska/CBC News)

Edmonton is preparing to create its first LGBTQ2 advisory committee.

"The needs are there, the gaps are there," said Susan Morrissey, the executive director of Edmonton Social Planning Council, one group that has researched what it's like to be lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer or two-spirited person in Edmonton.

"People are falling between the cracks."

An administration report going to the community and public services committee next week draws on research from the council, as well as from the Institute for Sexual Minority Studies and Services and the Women's Advocacy Voice of Edmonton.

"In some cases there's a lot of tension," Morrissey said Friday of the response from LGBTQ2 community. 

"We heard loud and clear from people it was really unacceptable and that changes should be made." 
Susan Morrissey, executive director of Edmonton Social Planning Council, said the non-profit has identified several gaps in policies and services. (Susan Morrissey)

The research outlines issues from change rooms and washrooms to application forms. 

"If you go into the ladies' washrooms or you go into the ladies' change room at the public swimming pool and there is somebody in there that does not necessarily look female but may identify as female, how does that work?" Morrissey said.

That challenge is all too familiar to transgender people like Angela Reid, a board member of the Trans Equality Society of Alberta.

Some facilities trying to be LGBTQ2-friendly still have gender-specific change rooms and no options for privacy, which Reid said can be awkward for everyone.

Reid said the trans equality society recommends facilities put up mobile privacy screens or post a floor plan on their website so people know what to expect.

"Then going into the space, you don't have to be kind of wandering through it looking for a relatively private corner to change in."

Forms, whether for signing up for an art class or a gym membership, are also a challenge, as most organizations still have two boxes — male or female. 
Angela Reid with the Trans Equality Society of Alberta said finding suitable change rooms at gyms and pools is a big challenge for the LGBTQ2 community. (Angela Reid)

"Forms are a huge problem," Reid said. "They tend to tie you in to whatever the computer system that goes along with them is programmed for."

She questions the need for a city to ask gender identity, arguing that it's not really necessary most of the time.

"Does it change what kind of games you're going to play with the kids?" she said of summer camps.

Coun. Scott McKeen asked for the analysis from city staff. He likens the potential committee to others that already exist, like the multicultural committee or WAVE, the Women's Advocacy Voice of Edmonton committee.

"This is exploring in some ways new territory from the perspective of the city," McKeen told CBC News. "We've never had an LGBTQ advisory committee before. What would be the value?"

The city estimates between 10 and 20 per cent of people in Edmonton are LGBTQ2

In its report, the citizen services branch suggests the city create a task force first to get more input from the community.

Reid believes Edmonton should make sure the transgender community is included on the task force, as it represents people who have transitioned from one gender to another, non-binary people, and those who are gender fluid.

Non-binary are people who don't consider themselves men or women. Gender fluid refers to a person who identifies to different degrees as a man or a woman.

"Knowing that there are high number of suicides in LGBTQ youth, knowing seniors in seniors housing face bigotry, we still have a long way to go," McKeen said.

Councillors will discuss the task force and advisory committee at a meeting March 14.

If approved, council will be asked to approve a draft terms of reference, a bylaw to allow for the committee and funding of about $100,000 to run it.