News  McGill’s gender definitions alienate students

The University’s need to know its students’ legal genders is offending queer advocacy groups on campus, who say the options of only conventional definitions of gender – male and female – are inaccurate and confining for students who do not identify with either binary.

On web systems such as Minerva, McGill’s online application and registration system, and on various paper documents, students are required to select one of two boxes to indicate their gender. But many queer and trans students do not necessarily identify as male or female.

According to Queer McGill Political Action Coordinator Rebecca Dooley, students’ gender information is irrelevant to their role at the University.

“I don’t feel it’s a necessary question in most situations. It’s not a detriment to McGill’s records to not know our genders,” Dooley said. “[To be forced to choose between only two] is alienating to students who don’t identify according to that binary.”

The University is aware of criticism about its treatment of gender on Minerva, according to Kathleen Massey, the Executive Director of Enrolment Services and Registrar.

“There is a lot of opportunity and desire on my part to create a system that is sustainable and respectful for all students,” Massey said.

But modifications have yet to be solidified. Changing the question on Minerva would require consultation not only within McGill, but also with outside bodies like the provincial government.

Massey said that before initiating discussions outside of McGill, she would like to consult student groups. Meanwhile, she suggested changing “gender” to “gender identity” on forms to acknowledge the personal nature of gender.

“It’s not just about political correctness. [This system] makes students feel personally uncomfortable. People forget that there are real people behind these issues, who shouldn’t have to be put through this,” Massey said.

But the University’s insistence on binary descriptions is insensitive, Dooley said, asserting that by representing only male and female gender identities, Mcgill violates its policy prohibiting discrimination based on gender.

“Perhaps they should rethink that policy. Which genders are they protecting? If McGill has a non-discrimination policy on gender, they shouldn’t force students to choose between just the ones they allow,” Dooley said.

As a public institution, McGill is obligated to obtain certain statistics, including gender. Enrolment Services reports on its web site the gender distribution of each year’s class.

Any change to the current treatment of gender at the University, Dooley suggested, would be influential.

“It’s a subtle form of alienation,” Dooley said of the University’s definitions, “but it’s important.”

McGill has in the past accommodated suggestions from campus queer advocacy groups, especially since the creation of the Senate Equity Subcommittee on Queer People in 2002, but often spends years finalizing the improvements they request.

In 2003, the University began adding or converting existing bathrooms to provide gender-neutral facilities, though many buildings are still without them.

And in 2006, Minerva was modified to allow students to specify a name to be used on class lists and university correspondence, enabling trans students to use names fitting their experienced genders.

“McGill has recognized its obligation to trans students, but we do need to do more work,” Massey said.