City removes bus shelter ads about transgender people in public washrooms

The ads urge restricting which public washrooms people who are transgender can use. The city of Hamilton has called them offensive and taken them down. The person who placed them there says it's unfair, while local transgender advocates say they never should have been there to begin with.

Transgender rights advocates say with city's new pro-LGBTQ pledge, the ads never should have been there

Art Hedden, a local parent, and Will Rowe, a Hamilton transgender rights activist, are disappointed that the city let ads against people who are transgender using gendered public washrooms appear in bus shelters. The city says it's taking them down. (Samantha Craggs/CBC)

The City of Hamilton is rushing to remove three Christian Heritage Party (CHP) ads from local bus shelters that urge restrictions on which public washrooms people who are transgender can use — ads that have local activists fearing the city's pledge to be more transgender-friendly is merely lip service.

The city will be removing the ads and we are sorry for the offensive nature of them.- Jasmine Graham, communications officer

The ads, which appear to show a man entering a door marked "Ladies Showers," include the phrase "Where is the justice?"

The CHP also distributed 3,500 flyers to Hamilton Mountain homes. The flyers encourage residents to contact city councillors to especially keep transgender women out of women's washrooms.

When informed of the ads on Wednesday, the city called them offensive and apologized.

"The city will be removing the ads and we are sorry for the offensive nature of them," spokesperson Jasmine Graham said in an email. "We strive to be a welcoming community and are committed to equity and inclusion."

One of the ads at Mohawk and Upper Wellington. (Samantha Craggs/CBC)

A third-party contractor, Outfront Media, handles HSR advertising, Graham said, and "should ask the city about any questionable advertising content so the city's senior management team can review and either approve or reject the ad … We are currently investigating to see where the breakdown was."

Coun. Aidan Johnson will also introduce a motion to that effect at a city council meeting Friday.

What that poster does is pick on a very specific fear.- Will Rowe, transgender rights activist

It's bad timing for the city, which settled an Ontario Human Rights Tribunal complaint in April on this issue. The settlement came after a security guard told a transgender woman she couldn't use the women's restroom at the MacNab bus terminal.

The tribunal ruled the city must rewrite its policies to align with Ontario's Human Rights Code. The city must also train employees on it, and post signs confirming its commitment to safe and accessible washroom and change room spaces for all.

The city has hired a consultant to help do that, Graham said. It's also holding focus groups to understand the needs of the community, and has started posting signs.

The city touted the settlement when it flew the transgender pride flag for the first time in June. 

'It's pushing that hysteria button'

So Will Rowe, a local transgender rights activist, is disappointed the ads were ever there to begin with.

"Any of their advertising needs to meet the standard of the Ontario Human Rights Code," he said.

It's pushing that hysteria button.- Art Hedden, Mountain resident

The city just released a new strategic plan that specifically mentions Hamilton being safe and inclusive for everyone, he said. The ads go against that.

"What that poster does is pick on a very specific fear," he said.

It also plays on a variety of old stereotypes, he said — about men, about women, about sexual assault, about people who are transgender.

This is the first year the city flew a transgender pride flag during Pride month. From left: Marlon Picken from the city's LGBTQ advisory committee; Mr. Pride Matthew Desoto; Mayor Fred Eisenberger; Coun. Jason Farr; Tasha Stevens, Empress of Hamilton; Coun. Matthew Green, Jill Davies. (Samantha Craggs/CBC)

Art Hedden, an east Mountain father of a transgender daughter, agrees. He got one of the flyers and wasn't sure at first if it was targeting his family. He said they're inappropriate for city bus shelters.

"It's pushing that hysteria button," he said.

'Women are generally very modest'

Hamilton Mountain CHP candidate Jim Enos placed the ads and distributed the flyers. ​He emailed Mayor Fred Eisenberger about their removal on Wednesday evening. Public policy, he said, should be open to public scrutiny.

We think it's important to all females in Hamilton whether they belong to the party or not.- Jim Enos, Christian Heritage Party candidate

Enos believes the city never should have settled, and that providing single-stall gender neutral washrooms should be enough to satisfy the Ontario Human Rights Code. 

"To go any farther is putting the other person's rights and needs over someone else's," he said.

His campaign focuses on women's washrooms, calling the issue one of protecting women in Hamilton. "We think it's important to all females in Hamilton whether they belong to the party or not," he told CBC Hamilton.

As for why it doesn't focus on men, "I don't think there are too many men that would complain about women coming into their facilities," he said. "I wouldn't want to see it be a hardship on women … Women are generally very modest."

Graham said the city provides single-stall washrooms and change rooms for people who want extra privacy. But that "will not be imposed upon an individual because of an individual's transgender identity."

Issue has become a political football

Which restroom transgender people use has become a hot button issue in recent years.

Last year, the Canadian senate gutted a transgender rights bill over "the bathroom issue." The federal Liberals also introduced a new transgender rights bill in May.

In the U.S., the Obama administration says public schools must allow transgender students to use the washroom of their choice. That's gotten resistance from the Republican party, and North Carolina recently enacted House Bill 2. The wide-ranging bill mandates transgender people to use public toilets corresponding to the sex listed on their birth certificate.

samantha.craggs@cbc.ca | @SamCraggsCBC