Eduvation Blog

Transcending Tolerance

Good morning!

Today is apparently a day to celebrate clarinets, buttons, fast food and teddy bears. But it’s also the UN’s International Day for Tolerance (something the world desperately needs more of, these days). As the UN puts it, “the diversity of our world’s many religions, languages, cultures and ethnicities is not a pretext for conflict, but is a treasure that enriches us all.”

“Education for tolerance should aim at countering influences that lead to fear and exclusion of others, and should help young people develop capacities for independent judgement, critical thinking and ethical reasoning.”United Nations, International Day for Tolerance


(It all sounds very much like Gene Roddenberry’s concept of IDIC from Star Trek, to those of us who embraced it back in the 60s and 70s.)

Speaking of diversity and tolerance, this is also Transgender Awareness Week, and few groups in our society need our understanding and compassionate acceptance more right now…



Profs & Pronouns

Although Canada is a much safer, more welcoming and supportive environment for sexual and gender diversity than many countries, we still have a long way to go. The pandemic timewarp makes it especially hard to believe that it’s been 5 years since the issue of gender-neutral pronouns exploded in the media…


Peterson & Pronouns

Back in October 2016, uToronto psychology prof Jordan Peterson polluted world headlines with his toxic, intolerant opposition to gender-neutral pronouns, and outright denial of nonbinary gender identities. If a student pleaded with him for compassion, his arrogant response would be “Not my problem!” (I summed up the Peterson controversy in 5 minutes of my round-up of Higher Ed Headaches 2016, with a few particularly striking clips.) Peterson insisted that human rights legislation (specifically Bill C-16, which added gender identity and expression to protected categories in Jun 2017) amounted to “totalitarianism,” and sadly he found a huge (and profitable) audience for his misinformation and exaggeration online. Right-wing intellectuals like Conrad Black waded in to defend Peterson’s right to so-called free speech. Meanwhile, members of uToronto’s transgender community reported receiving threats of violence.


Academic Iconoclasts

Although Peterson withdrew from teaching in 2018 and was pretty quiet throughout 2019 and 2020, the repercussions of his angry rants continued. In 2017, Laurier TA Lindsay Shepherd was swept up in the maelstrom for sharing a Peterson clip from TVO’s Agenda with her Communications students. In 2018, Acadia U psychology prof Rick Mehta offended students and caused controversy by largely “parroting” Peterson. Around the same time, a philosophy prof at CEGEP du Vieux Montréal was suspended for sharing intolerant and arch-conservative prejudices online. Last year, uAlberta dismissed anthropology prof Kathleen Lowrey from her role as department chair over her view that “transgender identity doesn’t trump biological sex for policy decisions.” This week, a school board in Virginia has had to back down on its policy that required teachers to address trans students by their pronouns. Oh, and of course, the nascent “anti-woke” uAustin, announced last week, has already hired a transphobic philosophy prof from Sussex, England. (More on that just as soon as I have time…)


Academic Freedom?

Universities across North America have been struggling to balance claims of “academic freedom” with their responsibility to protect basic human rights and provide a safe space for students and employees. uRegina dean of arts Shannon Dea explains that academic freedom protects faculty positions and free speech, but notadministrative appointments, and it does not guarantee that journal articles will not be retracted, or protests mounted outside classrooms. Academic freedom demands scholarly responsibility: it only protects academics who have done due diligence in the areas they are addressing. And while profs cannot be forced to cultivate supportive learning environments in the classroom for vulnerable students, it is the responsible thing to do.  University Affairs


Transphobic Traction

Sadly, we’re still used to seeing vocal transphobia in other countries. Harry Potter author J.K. Rowlingalienated many of her fans with a series of social media posts in 2020, which sparked a global backlash. General Hospital star Ingo Rademacher has been sharing transphobic tweets along with his antivax sentiments. Last month, Russian president Vladimir Putin attacked the West’s teaching of gender fluidity as a “crime against humanity.” Netflix employees walked out over transphobic remarks in a comedy special by Dave Chappelle. (And his alma mater, the Duke Ellington School of the Arts, is struggling with whether to proceed with Chappelle’s fundraiser, or to name their theatre after him.) Republican congressman Jim Banks was locked out of Twitter for intentionally misgendering Rachel Levine. Transgender athletes have been banned from girls’ athletics in 10 US states. But there are worrying signs that transphobia is on the rise in Canada, too, several groups told the CBC last week. York U social work prof Kinnon MacKinnon observes that media in the UK have been highlighting “detransitioning” stories (the 13% who reverse a gender transition) in a way that “invalidates trans identities.” As another advocate puts it, “maybe we should have listened to community leaders who were telling us that the fight isn’t even close to over.”

“Trans people are who they say they are and deserve to live their lives without being constantly questioned or told they aren’t who they say they are.”Emma Watson, star of Harry Potter


“We’re exhausted from constantly having to debate our existence. We’re exhausted by constantly having to self-advocate in the face of ignorance.”Anna Murphy, trans woman and LGBTQ activist



Legault Retaliates

Most CdnPSEs have not found it too terribly difficult to introduce more nuanced checkboxes for gender on their forms, but political opposition remains fierce outside the academy. (Not just in Texas and Oklahoma, either.) Quebec’s Bill 2, introduced on Oct 21, is “the Legault government’s retaliation against the trans community for demanding the right to be recognized as people with inherent dignity and worth,” says Arwyn Regimbal, writing in The McGill Daily. It comes in response to a January Superior Court ruling that struck down the province’s binary definition of sex as harmful to trans people: judge Gregory Moore emphasized that legal ID with proper sex designation reduces suicidal ideation and suicide attempts among trans youth in particular. Bill 2 sidesteps the legal ruling by adding “gender designation” as something distinct from biological sex, which would still be used for government IDs. Regimbal says in summary, “the Quebec government is comfortable expending the safety and lives of minorities in exchange for political gain.”  McGill Daily


Simple Gestures

Many CdnPSE staff and faculty have added their own preferred pronouns to their email signatures, as a gesture of solidarity and support to LGBTQ+ students and colleagues. (Zoom even added a new pronouns feature this year, which displays your pronouns during web conferences.) Obviously, the intention is to signal your awareness that gender is not sex and pronouns are not always self-evident. Arguably, sharing your pronouns costs cis-gendered people nothing, but a campus-wide directive could be problematic for trans or nonbinary people who haven’t yet “come out.” New York Times


They: Singular for Centuries

Anne Curzan (uMichigan dean of literature, science and the arts) writes that “they” has been a singular generic pronoun for centuries. “Shakespeare and Austen both used singular ‘they’ this way, just as many English speakers do now.” It has long been used when the gender of a person is unknown or irrelevant, but what is new is the use of “they” to refer to specific, nonbinary people. Is it worth a bit of effort to adjust our use of the pronoun? “The answer comes down to respect… Identities deserve to be honoured.”  Washington Post

“Shakespeare and Austen both used singular ‘they’ this way, just as many English speakers do now.”Anne Curzan, Dean of the College of Literature, Science, and the Arts, uMichigan



Trans Challenges

Gender nonbinary, non-conforming, and trans young people face more hurdles to their mental, physical and economic well-being than about any other group…


Bullying & Stress

Gender-diverse teens in BC are 6x more likely to experience extreme stress, according to a new UBC study of 38,000 youth. 80% of trans boys and 60% of trans girls reported being bullied in the previous year, putting them at higher risk for health problems. A 2015 study, also from UBC, found that just half of trans youth lived in their felt gender full-time, but they were 50% more likely to report good mental health. Nearly two-thirds reported self-harm within the past year, and more than a third had attempted suicide. As the McGill Daily puts it, “gender recognition is suicide prevention.”


Hiring Discrimination

There are more than 2M transgender Americans, and 1.2M identify as nonbinary, but they still face stigma and discrimination, and feel anxiety and alienation in school and at work. Research published this month in McKinsey Quarterly finds that trans adults are twice as likely to be unemployed, earn on average 32% less (even with similar or higher qualifications), and feel less supported. Two-thirds remain in the closet in professional interactions outside their own companies. They are 3x more likely to delay or skip meetings, and 55% say they choose not to speak up in meetings at all. 29% live in poverty. One-quarter experience housing discrimination. 49% do not progress beyond high school. What’s more, “trans employees’ keen awareness of the obstacles to career growth can be a self-fulfilling prophecy that leads to their attrition.”  McKinsey Quarterly


Gen Z Transcends

Boomers and Gen Xers likely underestimate LGBTQ+ identities among their younger Millennial and Gen Z counterparts. A new US study found that 30% of Millennials and 39% of Gen Zs identify as LGBTQ (that’s more than 30M Americans). The study, from Arizona Christian U, attempts to downplay the finding and promote “traditional values.” It found similar results among Millennials who were Christian or born-again, even though those faith groups can be homophobic. A larger Gallup poll in February found that 18.2% of US adults of all ages did not consider themselves heterosexual or straight, had no opinion, or declined to answer the question.  Newsweek



Safer Spaces

Even symbolic gestures can make your campus a safer space for trans students, but there are plenty of practical and kind initiatives we can take…


Trans-Inclusive Colleges

Clark U psychology prof Abbie Goldberg surveyed 507 trans and gender-nonconforming college students, concluding that truly welcoming institutions should offer gender-neutral restrooms, gender-inclusive housing, explicit nondiscrimination policies, options for chosen names and pronouns on records and class rosters, affinity groups, a mental health counsellor trained in the needs of trans people, and health coverage for hormones or gender-affirming surgery. (112 colleges in the US cover hormone therapy in their student health plans.)  The Conversation


The Trans Flag

Back in June (Pride month), I wrote about “Pride vs Shame; EDI and IDIC.” (A lot of the issue was devoted to EDI issues broadly, and racial issues were prominent at the time.) CdnPSEs were painting rainbow crosswalks and hoisting Progress Pride flags, albeit at half-staff. Rainbow flags and safe space stickers are visible across most campuses, but the pink and blue Transgender Pride flag, designed in 1999, is still less well known. (The traditional colours for baby girls and boys are joined by a white stripe, representing the nonbinary space between the two.) Thompson Rivers U will fly the trans flag all week (Nov 13-21), lowering it to half-staff for the Trans Day of Remembrance on Saturday.


Student Groups

Most CdnPSEs have official or unofficial student organizations dedicated to supporting trans students. Ryerson’s Trans Collective, for example, is “focused on challenging transphobia, cissexism, transmisogyny, and binarism” through “education, advocacy, and support,” from meetings, entertaining and educational events. LGBTOUT, the oldest of 10 LGBTQ+ student groups at uToronto, hosts events and operates a drop-in centre.


Gender-Neutral Washrooms

I think I first noticed gender-neutral washrooms back in 2007, when UBC announced it was retrofitting 391 single-stall washrooms as “a place not defined by male/female divisions.” (Hard to believe that was 14 years ago!) Since then, gender-neutral or all-gender washrooms are increasingly being designed in new campus buildings. There are never enough, of course, and dorm-style communal washrooms pose a definite challenge, but CdnPSE is making progress.


Gender-Neutral Dorms

Campus residence halls have been integrating male and female accommodations since I was an undergraduate (so, a long time) – although often on separate floors, particularly when dorm-style washrooms were at the end of the hall. Over the past 15 years, institutions have become increasingly flexible in accommodating “gender-blind” roommate requests irrespective of gender, and apartment-style residences make the transition even easier. (Memorial U converted its Burton’s Pond apartments to become gender-neutral back in 2015, for example, although there are probably earlier examples in CdnPSE.)


Dress Codes

Be grateful if your institution doesn’t have a formal dress code or uniform for students. Back in 2012, Oxfordhad to rewrite its dress code, “subfusc,” because gender-specific clothing requirements were unfair to trans students. (Everybody was still wearing a black gown overtop of those clothes anyway.) In Ottawa, the NDP is still pushing to eliminate gender-based dress codes in the House of Commons. Ryerson’s Trans Collective launched a Clothing Bank in 2016, to provide safe, barrier-free access to “clothing that makes you feel comfortable.”


Preferred Names

CdnPSEs often struggle with antiquated ERP systems that make it challenging to adapt to new realities, but over the past decade most student information systems have been updated to include chosen names and preferred pronouns. (OUAC added “another gender identity” back in 2016.) Sometimes, though, the bureaucratic processes are needlessly complicated, and inconsistencies can persist between class lists, transcripts, email addresses and the school website. Some institutions and student unions are working to simplify the process. For example, Ryerson U offers a step-by-step approach to update name and/or gender identity on their website, with guidance about legal implications and processes. uWindsor law students, under the auspices of Pro Bono Students Canada, launched a free legal aid clinic for trans students in 2019, to help them alter their named and gender on government ID.


Trans Courses

Like most EDI initiatives, they must eventually impact curricula and course offerings to truly transform the academy. In 2016, uVictoria announced a Chair in Transgender Studies, reportedly a world first at the time. In 2019, Ryerson communications prof Marty Fink launched a course in Trans Studies and Communication, and there has been a waiting list despite doubling course capacity. “The course unearths erased histories of trans resistance, as well as ongoing movements for trans community organizing and support.” This year, Sheridan College launched a humanities and social sciences interdisciplinary breadth elective in LGBTQ+ studies, and students have launched a podcast and a Discord server.

“When you go off to higher education, you get to decide how you will present yourself, who your friends will be, what you will study together. So bringing queer into the conversation is crucial… they notice how much queer erasure there was in their lives before.”Peter Grevstad, Sheridan College prof



Gender-Affirming Healthcare

It can be difficult to access basic healthcare for trans and gender diverse people, but the situation is gradually improving. The Canadian Professional Association for Transgender Health, established in 2008, is the world’s largest group of physicians, surgeons, social workers, lawyers, educators and other professionals “working to support the health, wellbeing, and dignity of trans and gender diverse people.” CPATH holds conferences, runs awards programs, circulates newsletters and convenes communities of practice. uSaskatchewan’s TRANS Health Navigator is a pilot project to help patients find trans-friendly doctors, support groups, or start hormone treatments. Since it began in April, it has helped hundreds of trans people. The Clinic is a short documentary launched this week to show medical professionals how LGBTQ+ patient needs often go unmet – 10x as often.


Gender-Fluid Marketing

Yes, even marketers have had to realize that Gen Z has a profoundly different, nonbinary understanding of gender. A Wattpad survey of 500 Canadian youth found that just 56% identified as straight or heterosexual, and about half knew someone who identifies as transgender, or uses gender-neutral pronouns. Gen Z’s shift “to a more gender-fluid future” reflects an emphasis on authenticity and individuality. Marketers need to avoid alienating Gen Z with imagery or language that reflects binary thinking. (That is particularly challenging for clothing retailers: even transgender t-shirts are sold in men’s and women’s sizes on Amazon.)  Strategy

“Everything – not just gender – needs to be viewed through a nonbinary lens… because the younger someone is, the less likely they are to see things in black and white terms.”Kristyn Anthony, Strategy Magazine



Tips for Allies

GLAAD offers some tips to help people become better allies of trans people, starting with “you can’t tell if someone is transgender just by looking,” “don’t make assumptions” about sexual orientation or pronouns, don’t ask what their “real name” is, and to be careful about confidentiality, disclosure and “outing.” They include some examples of “backhanded compliments” (I would call them microaggressions) and tips on creating a more inclusive workplace. Finally, “know your own limits as an ally,” and remember that allyship “is a sustained and persistent pattern of action.”  GLAAD



Trans Pride

Like so many marginalized groups, transgender and nonbinary people found the pandemic simultaneously challenging and a real opportunity…


Pandemic Safe Space

The Trevor Project reports that pandemic lockdowns and remote education reduced the safe spaces for many LGBTQ+ youth, confining them to sometimes unsupportive family homes instead of more liberating campuses. But on the other hand, some trans people found the pandemic “provided a safe space to come out,” without the challenges of transphobia in the offline world. Welcoming trans communities on Twitter, Tumblr and other social media platforms provided a sense of belonging, and an opportunity to share experiences and insights. A CUNY psychology prof observes that enforced lockdowns and tragic losses prompted introspection for many people, but “the pandemic may have made [those struggling with gender identity or sexual orientation] realize that they no longer wanted to live in a way in which they couldn’t be their truest or most authentic selves.” Transitioning while working from home, free of the “cis gaze,” was a godsend: “I wasn’t wasting energy posturing.”  Huffington Post


Doubtless student associations and student services offices across CdnPSE have many events planned for Trans Awareness Month (November) and Trans Awareness Week (this week). Here are just a few examples…


Trans Awareness Month

Ryerson’s Positive Space network of faculty and staff are planning educational and community-focused programming all month, both online and on-campus. RU Athletics is offering trans swim times and group fitness classes. The RU Library is promoting trans authors, researchers, and activists in an asynchronous book club. Ryerson is also running workshops for staff and faculty on gender affirmation benefits and trans-inclusive leadership.


Trans Awareness Week

Sheridan College will participate in Transgender Awareness Week this week by “sharing resources for further learning, stories and experiences, and advocating against issues of prejudice, discrimination, and violence that affect the transgender community.” (One such resource is Z Nicolazzo’s Trans in College: Transgender Students’ Strategies for Navigating Campus Life and the Institutional Politics of Inclusion.) Events include 3 “Coffee Talks,” a digital career networking event (“Matrices”), and webinars on “creating space for uncomfortable conversations” and trauma-informed care approaches.


Trans Day of Remembrance

Transgender Day of Remembrance is held annually on Nov 20 (this coming Saturday), in memory of the trans people whose lives were lost in acts of transphobic violence. uWindsor will mark TDOR with a free online webinar on harm reduction this Thursday. The Ministry of Canadian Heritage is finalizing the design of an $8M Ottawa monument to “tell the story of generations of LGBTQ2+ people in Canada who have been persecuted, abused, dismissed and marginalized because of who they love and how they identify.”


“With so many seeking to erase transgender people – sometimes in the most brutal ways possible – it is vitally important that those we lose are remembered, and that we continue to fight for justice.”Gwendolyn Ann Smith, founder of Transgender Day of Remembrance




This is Trans Awareness week and month, but back on March 31, CdnPSE also recognized Trans Day of Visibility. Here’s one quick video that caught my eye at the time…


Come as You Are

Royal Roads U president Philip Steenkamp joined digital experience manager Ali atop the turret of Hatley Castle to raise the trans flag in honour of Trans Day of Visibility, and show support for trans, gender nonconforming, nonbinary and two-spirit people. “We want people to know that you can come to campus each and every day to study and to work, and bring your whole selves here.”  YouTube



As always, thanks for reading; hopefully you found some of this helpful.

I learned quite a bit myself in assembling this issue, although of course I’m no expert on this sensitive and nuanced topic. Apologies in advance if I’ve misinterpreted or poorly summarized any of the sources above – and please do drop me a line if you want to set me straight!

Stay safe and be tolerant of everybody out there!


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