This post is part of the Report Homophobic Violence, Period initiative.


Gender identity refers to an individual’s innermost sense of self as a man or a women, as lying somewhere between these two genders, or as lying somewhere outside gender lines altogether.  Unlike sex, which refers to one’s biological and reproductive physiology, gender refers to social and behavioural characteristics, such as appearance, mannerisms and roles, as well as one’s internal and psychological sense of self.

Transgender refers to a person whose biological sex assigned at birth does not match their gender identity. A trans person’s outward appearance, expression and/or anatomy do not fit into conventional expectations for men or women. Transsexual people generally identify internally with the sex “opposite” to the sex assigned to them at birth. Some people may not identify with either male or female genders, and others may identify with both.

Trans may also be used as umbrella terms for anyone whose gender identity differs from their birth sex and/or whose gender expression contravenes social expectations of the range of possibilities for men and women.  This refers to how people present their sense of gender to the larger society – either as masculine, feminine, or something else – generally through behaviour, clothing, hairstyle, voice and/or the emphasis or de-emphasis of bodily characteristics.

How do I refer to someone who is trans?

As a general rule, use the gender pronoun that matches the way a person is dressed and other cues of gender expression (hairstyle, makeup, shoes, name, etc.) even if their presentation does not match the sex designation on their identification documents.

For most people, questions about their gender can be distressing; therefore, questions about a person’s gender identity should be handled with great sensitivity and caution.  Such questions should be asked only on a need-to-know basis (not because you are curious).

If it is necessary for the task at hand, you may try an indirect question, such as, “Can I refer to you by your first name?” or “How would you prefer that I address you?” hoping they indicate a title (Mr., Ms., Mrs., etc.) or a pronoun that gives you a cue on which you can act.  While some people will be upset by a direct question, if you are gentle and non-confrontational, most will understand that you are doing your best to be sensitive and respectful.

Policing and the Trans Community

Considerations for searching a trans person

In Forrester v. Peel (Regional Municipality) Police Services Board et al, the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario established guidelines for strip-searching trans detainees.  In the absence of existing policies, similar protocols may benefit the community and the police.

A trans detainee should be offered one of three options for a strip-search:

  • a) male officer(s) only,
  • b) female officer(s) only, or
  • c) a split search.

Where an officer has serious reason to doubt a detainee’s self-identification as trans, absent any objective criteria that would cause the officer to believe that this is true, the officer may ask the detainee prescribed questions, in private, to verify the detainee’s status.

The permitted questions are as follows:

  • (a) What name appears on your identity documents?
  • (b) What is your gender identity?
  • (c) Have you disclosed your gender identity to your friends and/or family?
  • (d) What steps are you taking to live full-time in a manner consistent with your gender identity? How can you demonstrate that you are living full-time in your gender identity?
  • (e) Have you sought or are you seeking medical or professional guidance from a qualified professional? If so, can you give the names(s) of these people and their professional designations?
  • (f) What medical steps, if any, have you taken to help your body match your gender identity?

If the detainee becomes a security risk, and the officer is apprehensive of an emergency, then whichever officers are present at the time are permitted to deal with this on an exceptional basis, and may take whatever steps necessary to protect themselves and the other detainees, and to maintain order, just as they would for any other detainee.  An exceptional circumstance must be documented by the Officer-in-Charge of the Division.

Considerations regarding the safe lodging of a trans detainee

Because of their gender expression or presentation, trans detainees may be subject to abuse or harassment by other detainees in general population.  For this reason, some police facilities have responded by placing trans detainees in isolated cells, away from either the men’s or the women’s cell blocks.  As a general practice, this can be seen as a form of discrimination, or even negatively impact the detainee’s mental and physical health and increase the risk of self-harm, despite isolation being the safest option in some cases. Currently, Canada does not have legislation regulating police detention of trans individuals.  As such, the following may be considered:

  1. What facility would provide the safest environment for the trans detainee?  Is it safer to place them in a male facility or a female facility?  Which unit in a particular facility is safest?
  2. What is the detainee’s general appearance, i.e What gender does that detainee live and identify as?
  3. The last consideration is physiology, e.g. Has the detainee had genital surgery?

Some trans people have been prescribed hormones as a critical part of their physical transition.  Requests to continue this treatment should be accommodated in accordance with existing police policies.

Transitioning in School

For youth, transitioning in schools can be very challenging; as our research has shown, trans individuals experience a significant amount of verbal and physical harassment from their peers. For some trans people, the school community may be the only support system available to them. School Resource Officers can work with trans youth as they determine their needs and assist them within the school community with their transition process. Finding ways to support trans youth as parents and families can also be challenging – the Parents section of has plenty of resources to assist you (

Supporting trans students

Work with trans students and their parents, teachers, school counsellors and principals to develop a flexible plan and support structure that respects and corresponds to the student’s gender identity and presentation.  Always keep in mind the student’s immediate health, safety, educational and personal development needs and adjust accordingly.

Establish yourself as a safe person the student can go to for help and support:  Know what resources are available and be prepared to help the student access those resources if you don’t know how to respond to a particular issue.

Respect the student’s right to privacy and confidentiality:  Students who are not “out,” or are in the process of transitioning, are at greater risk of bullying, violence, depression and suicide.  Know the signs and intervene when necessary, but remember that “outing” a student may do more harm than good.

Be proactive:  Challenge transphobic jokes and comments and use them as an opportunity to educate and dispel prejudice and misinformation.  Follow-up with a private conversation for a more in-depth and nuanced discussion about the history and effects of these comments.

Be aware that your silence signals your approval of discriminatory acts.

Check out the following resources and more at – Taking Action to Create Trans-Positive Schools

OSSTF’s Creating Spaces: Embedding Equity in Education

Human Rights Resource Centre: Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Rights

For Parents

Parenting trans, genderqueer or gender non-conforming youth can often involve a great deal of concern and stress around their wellbeing at school.  Below are some strategies for engaging your school community and communicating with School Resource Officers to work towards building a safe and more inclusive school for all youth. (

Engage with your child

Communication is one of the most important tools in easing your child’s transition and/or coming out process.  They may not want to talk about their identity all the time (and neither may you) but it’s important that you let them know that they have your support and love.  Encourage your child to come to you for support whenever they may feel unsafe, disrespected or discriminated against at school or in the community.  Make yourself available for conversation. (

Engage with the school community

Focus on building strong and positive relationships with your child’s teachers.  Depending on your child’s development, and their wishes, it may be important to meet with all of your child’s teachers and express to them the significance of openly respecting and supporting your child’s gender identity and gender expression.  Work with them to prepare strategies for creating and maintaining positive classroom environments in the face of possible bullying or harassment that your child and other members of LGBTQ community in the school may face.  As well, consider reaching out to your school or board/district’s equity officer, if they have one, for further support and resources, including RHVP materials in many communities. (

Engage with other parents

Finding allied parents within the school community and beyond can make for a great support network, as well as a good team to help create a safe and more inclusive school community for trans students.  Existing groups for parents of LGBTQ children might be another supportive community to connect with (for instance, PFLAG Canada).  Consider connecting with people who do not identify within the spectrum of LGBTQ identities but are allied in the creation of safe and more inclusive school communities.  (

Engage with local LGBTQ communities

Reaching out to local LGBTQ organizations like community groups or healthcare organizations can be a great way to help address some of your questions and concerns.  Volunteering with a local organization, like your local branch of PFLAG Canada, can be a great way to indicate your support to your child, as well as allowing you to meet and interact with members of the trans community.  National organizations like Egale Canada,, the Canadian Professional Association for Transgender Health (CPATH) and others may be able to provide you with resources for you personally, as well as for the school community.  No matter where you are in the world, you, your children and your family are not alone!