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Notes from Council: Councillor presents barriers faced by transgender students

Rowan Morris, an education councillor on Students' Council, presented to rest of council on the barriers faced by transgender students.

“Notes from Council” is The Gateway’s ongoing series of recaps of noteworthy items from Students’ Council meetings.

Rowan Morris, an education councillor on Students’ Council, presented to the rest of council on the barriers faced by transgender students at the University of Alberta.

Morris began the presentation with a personal announcement.

“I want to share a development in my personal life… I am changing my name to Rowan,” Morris said. “…this name change has been gradual and slow, but meaningful, and my closest friends have been calling me Rowan all summer. Now I’m at a point where I want my professors to use my name — but that’s the issue.”

Morris then continued to provide examples of specific barriers transgender students face in a university setting.

“I cannot change my name at the university without a legal name change,” Morris said. “This costs approximately $400 when it is all said and done. I am able to put a preferred name in Bear Tracks, [but this] will not show up on my transcripts, any financial reports, my employee record, or eventually my diploma. I’m also unable to change my gender marker without a legal change being done as well.”

Morris noted cost as the first barrier stopping them from legally changing their name.

“It’ll cost me approximately $400, but likely more since I was born out of province, to change my name legally on the ID, health-care card, passport, and birth certificate,” they explained. “All these processes are their own [separate process] too. I would need to file a minimum of four times just for my name change and another four for my gender marker. This financially adds up.”

Secondly, Morris noted safety as a primary concern for transgender students looking to change their name.

“I went to Student Legal Services‘s gender clinic a few weeks ago to get the ball rolling on changing my gender marker, and I have to bring the paperwork they have completed to the registry,” Morris detailed. “Then, I have to verbally declare that I am transgender, and [am] changing my gender marker.”

“The person serving me, another person working in the registry, or even another customer, may react in a harmful way, or could file my papers wrong based on a personal biases. I asked if they happen to know the registry where I could go [where] I could do that process safely. They don’t have an answer. I am scared.”

Morris further elaborated on the safety concerns that can accompany a transgender person.

“Just last week actually I saw a trans person get punched [in] the face [at] Pride Corner on Whyte Avenue,” they said. “I’m [also] on Facebook [where] I’ve seen the public response to Dave Chappelle. I dropped a course this semester actually because of a professor continuously commenting on my gender and how it would impact my ability to succeed in the future as an educator.”

“I so badly want my gender marker to reflect who I am but I don’t feel as though I can go file [for it] yet because I’m still too scared.”

Morris noted “clarity” to be the third primary barrier they are currently facing as a transgender student. They described the legal process behind changing their name as a “confusing process” during which many staff lack sufficient information to properly help transgender individuals.

“Most registry staff lack sufficient information to answer the hundreds of questions that can come up with filing this paperwork — I believe that this is purposeful,” Morris said. “…the forms themselves are a mess to complete, and without the help of Student Legal Services, I would not have been able to complete those forms on my own.”

“This is so difficult, with the intention that people give up…. there are other provinces and countries where [this process is] easier, but in Alberta, it’s muddy and disheartening.”

Morris then requested the university loosen their name changing restrictions slightly, to allow transgender students to properly change their names easier.

“If the university could just loosen their restrictions and their process a little bit, I could present with my chosen name on all university platforms,” Morris said. “If they would let me change my gender marker, I could also live a little bit [less] fear.”

Morris also requested the help and advocacy of their peers on Students’ Council.

“I can’t fight this fight alone… I can stand here and I can beg you all to do something,” Morris said. “There are hundreds of transgender students on campus who can’t. After hours of perusing your individual platforms and hearing from those who were able to message me, 21 of you included elements of diversity and inclusion in your platform. Here is an opportunity for you to fulfill your campaign promises.”

“All of you here are for student advocacy — I’m here as a student asking that you advocate for me.”

Areeha Mahal

Areeha Mahal was the 2021-22 News Editor and previously served as a Deputy Arts & Culture Editor and Deputy News Editor. Additionally, she is a second-year Biology and English student. When she’s not learning the Krebs cycle for the millionth time, Areeha enjoys stargazing, baking pies, and listening to Bob Dylan.

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