News  Gender-neutral IDs come to McGill

Union for Gender Empowerment urges administration to follow suit

The McGill branch of the Solidarity ID Project is trying to catch up with various Concordia-based cooperatives in issuing self-identifying Solidarity IDs. Funded by the Union for Gender Empowerment (UGE), McGill students Julia Wilk and Lydia Ould Brahim have issued the IDs to a hundred students since September.

The McGill branch of the project has had a hard time getting off the ground. Of the four founding members of the ID project at the UGE, only two are still working on it. Wilk told The Daily that both of them are often too busy with other volunteering work to make the IDs.

Wilk urged anyone interested in the project to volunteer, or at least to get an ID themselves.

“If more people were really involved we could go a lot further with the project,” she said.

A photograph is placed next to essential personal information on the Solidarity ID, including name, address, birth date, and choice of gender – though information is optinional in each category. Many people include names other than their legal names, and occasionally “non-normative” gender designations, like “Gender Queer,” or simply gender classifications different than their sex at birth.

The project is thriving, driven by the food cooperative Frigo Vert at Concordia. In September 2008, the co-op decided to design a new membership card and, after coordinating with Concordia’s 2110 Centre for Gender Advocacy, the Solidarity ID Project began.

Frigo Vert’s web site cites the imposition of “patriarchy and white supremacy” on groups like immigrants, indigenous, or transgendered people as the reason for creating an alternative ID. According to Gab Stensson, a staff member of Frigo Vert, the co-op has issued at least 2,000 Solidarity IDs over the past year.

All Frigo Vert members are issued a Solidarity ID. There is no club or organization at McGill that requires its members to have a Solidarity ID.

“It’s been really helpful having a membership base,” said Stensson.

Telyn Kusalik, one of the founding members of the Solidarity Project at McGill, pointed out that in most Canadian provinces it is impossible to get a government-issued photo ID that does not include a male/female gender signifier. Another issue Kusalik saw being addressed by the Solidarity IDs is McGill’s policy of using students’ legal names, and not their chosen names, for everything from dissertations to McGill IDs.

Kusalik acknowledged that McGill’s policy from 2005-2006 shifted to include students’ names of common usage on class lists, alongside their legal names. The problem with the class list policy, Kusalik said, is that “students whose legal name is of a gender other than the gender they appear to be are still ‘outed’ as trans to their teachers, and possibly subject to discrimination by those teachers.”

Deputy Provost (Student Life & Learning) Morton Mendelson said of the class list issue, “This is the first time I’ve heard that the issue had been brought up again.”

“We have certain legal obligations toward the government in terms of reporting gender,” added Mendelson. “We are obliged to indicate their sex, and the options are male and female.”

In greater Quebec, citizens have to prove that they have lived under a certain name for five years before being able to legally change it.

“I have noticed, in my activism, that it’s often easier to create an alternative to the system than it is to change it,” said Kusalik. “And that’s exactly what the Solidarity ID project is: an alternative to the system of photo IDs that both McGill and the provincial and federal governments are part of.”

Members of Frigo Vert met last year with Concoridia Dean of Students Elizabeth Morey about including the names students commonly use, rather than their legal names, on their student IDs. Morey seemed sympathetic to the initiative, according to Stensson.

At McGill, when asked whether the administration would consider dropping given names in favour of names of common usage, Registrar Kathleen Massey said that that it was “an interesting request.” She added that she “would be open to exploring the idea.”