Is Health Services a trans safe space?

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By: Jansher Saeed

Alex McEwin is raising awareness on equity-based issues with UWaterloo Health Services’ medical procedures and Registrar Office’s name change policy. 

McEwin said students are receiving conflicting information on whether Health Services offers hormone related medication. He said Health Services’ doctors are facing the same conflict. 

“Some doctors are under the assumption that Health Services does not provide this service and that you have to refer students out elsewhere [for hormone related services],” McEwin said.

Students at UWaterloo have raised concerns regarding the equity of UWaterloo Health Services, Registrar Office’s name change policy and the resources available for the LGBTQ+ community on campus. McEwin aims to make UW services more equitable towards the LGBTQ+ community.

“I don’t want more people to [feel excluded] or have that be their experience. I want them to feel safe,” McEwin said, student coordinator at the Glow Centre, UWaterloo student and transgender person. 

McEwin believes that this issue arises from not having conversations with the LGBTQ+  community on their own health matters.

“I do not believe at any point did they actually have trans people consult on their own healthcare or be like, hey, these are some problems that might come up if you do these things,” McEwin said.

Alex McEwin student coordinator at the Glow Centre
Photo by Jansher Saeed

To vocalize transgender health care issues at UWaterloo, McEwin says a focus groups of students was created.

“It wasn’t until this term we brought a group of students to [Health Services] with feedback that we were even able to get someone to speak about it with Health Services,” McEwin said. 

However, McEwin says none of those feedback points were implemented.

“There are a lot of cases of people having their preferred names being included on their healthcare information sheets and the names that are not supposed to be read out and get crossed out.”

 Commonly, the crossed name is the one that gets read, McEwin said, and students who try and correct Health Services’ professionals face “backlash” and “resistance.” 

“The University of Waterloo believes in supporting a diverse and inclusive environment in every area of campus, including Campus Wellness Services, which includes Health Services,” said Matthew Grant, director, media relations at UWaterloo on behalf of Health Services.

Health Services will be launching a “transgender care team,” to support transgender students on campus. The team will be one that is familiar and sensitive to the needs of the transgender community.

“The creation of this team follows significant training for health care teams, playing host to regional transgender care conferences twice in the last year, and consultation with Rainbow Health Ontario, who has considerable experience in this area,” Matthew Grant said.

McEwin and fellow UWaterloo students have been pushing for a new name change policy at UW for 10 years. McEwin’s personal experiences under UWaterloo’s previous name change policy have been a frightening experience for himself.

“I remember in my first year, having my old name be very public to people on platforms like LEARN was terrifying to me and I was really uncomfortable.” McEwin said. 

He feels that his old name misrepresents him, stating that “it’s very different from myself as a person right now.”  

McEwin feared the use of his previous name in any context, a fear he hopes other UW will no longer have to face under the new name change policy.

“I don’t want more people to do that or have that be their experience. I want them to feel safe.” He hopes the release of the new name change policy by the UWaterloo Registrar Office this year will help achieve this goal.

“What motivated me at first was that I never had the opportunities, or I never even felt like I had the spaces to exist very authentically,” McEwin said, referring to his experiences as a student in his hometown of Stratford, Ontario. “I did not feel very connected to Stratford so I built a lot of [safe spaces] here when I came [to Waterloo].”

McEwin recalls restriction on the information and opportunities available to students who identify as LGBTQ+ by the Catholic school board he was enrolled in.  

“Someone tried to start a Gay-Straight Alliance in my highscool. Because I went to a Catholic school , even though they legally are not supposed to shut it down, the school board kindoff had a backdoor way of shutting it down,” McEwin said.

The “backdoor way”, he says, are loose regulations on Catholic Board education by the Ontario government.  

 “I remember looking back at the sexual health curriculum when Doug Ford was changing it , only 10 per cent of the curriculum  was even changed for Catholic schools back in 2015.” 

What concerned McEwin the most regarding the setback in Cathlic Board sexual health education was its representation of LGBTQ+ relationships.

“As long as they just talked about things like LGBTQ+ relationships it didn’t matter what way [the school board] presented that information,” McEwin said.

McEwin has previously worked as a Coordinator for the Glow Centre and aims to start work as the Glow Centre’s Advocacy Director this term. McEwin mentioned that although WUSA attempts to make coordinator roles ones that help spread equity across student services, his capability to do so is limited by his work responsibilities.

“I have to represent this organization, be responsible for it, be responsible for my exec. team, be responsible for my general volunteer base. I’m responsible for the emails we get on many different issues not just people’s healthcare,” McEwin said. 

He says the scope and shear responsibilites of his position keep him from focusing his efforts towards bringing equity and respresentation for transgender people in the various services offered at UW. He noted that the role of Advocacy Director would allow him to focus more on health related projects and issues that he has been working with in the past. 

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