Legal Matters: Trans and gender-nonconforming persons’ rights to use public washrooms

This article was originally published by The Hamilton Spectator.

Q: As a trans person, what are my rights when using public washrooms?

A: In short, trans and non-binary people have the right to use the washroom that best aligns with their gender identity.

Everyone has the right to define their own gender identity. Gender identity is each person’s internal experience of gender. It’s how someone feels as a man, woman, both, neither or anywhere along the gender spectrum. A person’s gender identity could be the same or different from the sex they were assigned at birth.

Separate from gender identity, gender expression refers to how someone publicly presents their gender and includes things like clothing, hair, and preferred pronouns.

Both gender identity and gender expression are protected from discrimination and harassment under Ontario’s Human Rights Code.

Unfortunately, the violence and discrimination faced by trans and gender-nonconforming individuals in Ontario is alarmingly high. Accessing public washrooms can cause extreme anxiety, risk, and fear for gender diverse people. Many places do not have gender neutral washrooms and someone’s gender expression may be different than their birth-assigned sex. Individuals may feel more comfortable using the washroom that aligns with their identity. If any public place including restaurants, libraries or malls do not allow this to happen, it could be discrimination based on gender identity and expression under the Human Rights Code.

Beyond the Human Rights Code, in 2017 the City of Hamilton enacted a Protocol for Gender Identity and Gender Expression. The protocol includes a commitment to offer single stall and all-gender washrooms wherever possible.

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Nicole Biros-Bolton
Nicole Biros-Bolton
P: 905.572-5805
nbirosbolton@rossmcbride.com