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Kingston among nation’s most gender-diverse cities, inclusivity work still needed

Content warning: This article has content regarding hate crimes and transphobia.

Kingston City Hall lit up in blue, pink, and white, the colours associated with Transgender Day of Visibility, on Thursday, Mar. 31, 2022. Kingstonist file photo.

The 2021 census in Canada was the first to include a question on gender and to add the precision of “at birth” to the question on sex, allowing all cisgender, transgender, and non-binary individuals to report their gender. This allowed for more detailed data to be available for local communities throughout the country and for smaller populations such as the transgender and non-binary communities. The census revealed that Canada’s most populous province, Ontario, is home to the highest number of transgender and non-binary people. Further, Kingston was ranked the most gender-diverse city in Ontario and fifth most gender-diverse in all of Canada.

For the Kingston census metropolitan area, 0.14 per cent identified as transgender men, 0.13 per cent identified as transgender women, and 0.25 per cent identified as non-binary. Overall, the study found that younger generations had larger shares of those who are transgender or non-binary.

Graph of the gender diversity data obtained through the 2021 Census. Graph via Statistics Canada.

While these numbers are impressive for Kingston, hate-related crime reports have been growing at an alarming rate over the last five years. According to Statistics Canada, there were five reported hate crime incidents in 2018. In 2019, incidents almost doubled with nine hate crime incidents reported. In 2020, incidents doubled again, with 18 hate crimes reported. Additionally, according to Constable Ash Gutheinz of the Kingston Police, in 2021 a staggering 35 hate-related crimes were reported, and three have been documented so far in 2022.

Kingston prides itself on being an inclusive community, with tourism and the constant influx of post-secondary students from around the world bringing a broad diversity to the city.

However, Josie Vallier, a transgender woman who calls Kingston home, says, “We still have work to do. We still have a lot of people in this community with a lot of hate in their heart. And that doesn’t just go for the trans and non-binary communities; it goes for minority communities across our city. We still have a lot of people in this community who see minorities differently and treat them differently.”

Vallier has firsthand experience with discrimination and hate-fueled incidents. The most recent incident, which occurred on the morning of April 26, left her with feelings of shock and disbelief. While Vallier was walking along the sidewalk near the Kingston Centre, she was smacked in the chest by an empty Tim Horton’s cup. Although she was listening to music, she was still able to hear a masculine voice calling her a “tranny freak.” She was too shocked to react immediately, but she did pick up the discarded Tim Horton’s cup because, as she puts it, “There was no point in littering.”

Unfortunately, there have been many other acts of hatred directed at Vallier since the beginning of her transition, which she went public with in March 2022. Vallier is deeply frustrated by the constant misgendering that she faces on a day-to-day basis. However, when her true name and correct gender are used, she says it means the world.

Dr. Ashley Waddington, assistant professor of obstetrics and gynaecology at Queen’s University, opened a clinic in 2017 after seeing the need for comprehensive trans care for people in the Kingston community. Dr. Waddington says that the hatred towards gender-diverse individuals in Kingston should not be happening. “If you don’t know somebody who is gender-diverse, it can be very easy to not understand what that’s like and be judgemental about it,” she says.

Vallier acknowledges the gap in knowledge and understanding surrounding the gender-diverse community and suggests that people should learn more. “If it’s something you don’t understand, do the research. Ask the questions. If that’s not something you are willing to do, just let people live their lives,” she says.

Kingston has more work to do to make the city safe and welcome for all. A 2017 City of Kingston survey found that 88 per cent of Kingston residents feel the community is enriched by having a diverse and inclusive population. However, over the past few years there have been significant hate crimes targeted at minority groups, which have left individuals like Vallier feeling unsafe within the community.

In January of this year, two victims of an alleged racially0motivated attack shared their story. On Thursday, Jan. 6, 2022, two women who self-identified as racialized people were crossing an intersection in Kingston when a Caucasian male driver deliberately sped up his sedan instead of stopping.

Another instance, in June of 2020, saw the vandalism of flags at the Four Directions Student Centre on Queen’s University campus. Crime Prevention Sergeant Steve Koopman said, “There is little to no doubt this mischief was deliberately conducted and a symbolic affront to the Indigenous nations and LGBTQ2S+ communities whose flags were desecrated.”

In July of 2019, racist remarks were keyed onto the side of a man’s car in Kingston after he left it momentarily unattended.

A disturbing incident occurred in the fall of 2019 within a Queen’s University residence where a homophobic, racist, and violent message was posted where some Indigenous students reside. The note left students feeling shocked and horrified.

Unfortunately, hate crimes are extremely hard to prosecute in Canada. The majority of crimes involving racism are prosecuted as regular offences under the Criminal Code, with bias, prejudice, or hate considered as aggravating factors for sentencing. “One of the elements of the offense is proving that the crime was motivated by hate,” Victoria Carmichael, a recent graduate from Queen’s School of Law, explains. “It’s difficult for a prosecutor to prove the subjective intent of the accused.”

Moreover, victims of hate crimes are often reluctant to pursue legal action. Although Vallier has experienced multiple hate-fuelled incidents in Kingston, she says she filed the recent assault with Kingston Police “mostly only to keep statistics accurate.”

However, she also wants to ensure that “people don’t get complacent and think we’re doing a great job at being inclusive.”

“If you’re of the opinion that this whole city is a friendly, happy place for any minority who lives here,… it might be worth stepping back, listening to the people who identify as part of those communities, and re-evaluating that opinion,” Vallier says.

Kingston may be the most gender-diverse city in Ontario, but it still has work to do to make the city an inclusive space for everyone who lives here.

Those locally looking for support or information regarding gender identity can reach out to the Gender Affirming Assistance Project, or the local transgender clinic started by Dr. Waddington.

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