For Phoenix Synkova, getting their vaccine card checked when they go into nonessential businesses is stressful and upsetting.
Under BC’s vaccine card policy, in order to get into businesses deemed nonessential, Synkova has to show their vaccine card and a piece of ID.
But Synkova’s ID contains their deadname — a transgender person’s assigned name at birth that they don’t use anymore. Synkova said theirs is a “gendered” name they don’t want people to know.
Recently, Synkova — a UBC grad who is now a research staff member in UBC’s computer science department — was at a cafe with their labmates when they had to show their vaccine card and their ID with their deadname on it.
“After checking my ID, the barista decided to use that name for my order and I was with other people and they were saying the name and I was like, ‘Oh no. I hate this.’”
For many trans, non-binary and two-spirit people, getting outed to strangers is now just a part of going out. Many have trouble getting their names changed on legal ID — Synkova hasn’t been able to because it would require them to go back to their home country of Russia for multiple months — meaning every time they have to show their ID along with their vaccine card, they’re forced to share their deadname with a stranger.
“The main issue with [the BC Vaccine Card] is it’s forcing people to show ID more often in more places that were previously necessary,” said Jade Fink, a third-year engineering student. Fink is also transgender.
“This is extremely problematic because previously you could go to a coffee shop, and you don’t have to show ID to do that, you could go by whatever name you want and there wouldn’t be any extremely arduous process in order to decide you want to go by a different name,” she said.
Synkova, Fink and a few other students at UBC have brought a complaint forward to UBC’s Equity & Inclusion Office (EIO). They’ve asked the office to help them bring this issue up to the province and remedy the issue here at UBC.
Kaitlyn Kraantz, a gender equity strategist at the EIO, said the office is now working to advocate to the province on this. Members of the Trans, Two-Spirit and Gender Diversity Task Force are signing a letter on the impact of these public health orders on the community.
Kraantz said the centre of this issue, at a high level, is equity and diversity.
“This is a public health order that essentially has unintended consequences for people who are minoritized,” Kraantz said. “When we have diverse decision-makers, the likelihood that we get this type of outcome is much, much lower.”
“I think the idea that legal name is benign is really embedded in a lot of places, and for many trans, two-spirit and non-binary people, legal name exposure is really not benign,” they added.
The Ministry of Health told The Ubyssey it is working with the community to identify a better process and to ensure deadnames are not used in the vaccine card.
“We continue to engage with advocacy and community organizations that support Two-Spirit, Trans, and Non-Binary people as we move forward with these measures to ensure that the provision and confirmation of vaccination status occurs in settings that are culturally appropriate, safe, and trauma-informed,” wrote Senior Public Affairs Officer Marielle Tounsi in a statement.
Tounsi wrote that the BC vaccine card includes the legal name on the BC Services Card for “security purposes and to maintain consistency across all government channels.” She added, “maintaining current personal information is beneficial, not just for the sake of the BC Vaccine Card but for other provincial and/or federal government services as well” and pointed to this website.
The Provincial Health Services Authority has also released a web page on this issue, affirming that “Two-Spirit, transgender and gender diverse people have the right to be referred to by their correct name and pronoun, and to not be outed, even if they have not legally changed their name.”
The authority’s web page contains a guide for trans, two-spirit and non-binary people when navigating this situation. It suggests people request a carry letter from their primary care provider — “commonly used during travel and in other situations where identification is required and one’s photograph, gender marker or name does not align with one’s physical appearance” — or ask that vaccine verification be done by someone informed on these issues.
Not just a BC issue
Fae Johnstone, a trans educator and equity and inclusion consultant, said this is an issue across Canada.
Johnstone spoke of how the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted trans people — from facing discrimination when accessing health services to an interruption in access to medication like hormones.
She said this is just another way in which governments have not considered the issues trans folk face. “I think this issue in particular speaks to a lack of planning and a lack of recognition of trans people’s needs and experiences in the development of these vaccine passports.”
The BC Ministry of Health pointed to how someone could legally change their name in a statement to The Ubyssey, but Johnstone said legally changing someone’s name has barriers — it’s time-intensive and can be expensive, something Synkova mentioned as well.
Johnstone said she would like to see broader communication to the public from governments about the rationale behind these passports and ways they can support trans people right now.
“Trans folk as an equity-seeking group were not considered substantively, let alone engaged meaningfully, in the development of the vaccine passport,” she said.
“I think it points to again a need for a deeper equity lens that seeks to incorporate trans perspectives from the ground up.”
Impact on UBC’s campus
With no word from the province about a change to this policy yet, trans, non-binary and two-spirit community members on campus are still dealing with this issue.
Fink said this has impacted her social involvement.
“I am extremely reticent to go to any club meeting that is not an explicitly Queer club because I have no expectation that anyone is going to handle this right,” Fink said.
Kraantz said “further isolation and removal from community among gender-diverse people” is a worst-case outcome of this policy.
“That’s not where we want to be, speaking for myself as an individual; the idea of further exclusion of people who already face exclusion and have participated in vaccinations,” they said.
AMS VP Administration Lauren Benson said she hadn’t heard of this issue until the students brought it to light.
“I’m really glad that it has been [brought up] because I don’t think that this is an issue that I necessarily would have come across myself when I was thinking about vaccinations...” Benson said.
As for guidance given to clubs on checking vaccination proof, as of now, the AMS doesn’t have anything specifically relating to this issue, but Benson suggested some strategies in an interview with The Ubyssey.
Benson recommended that trans students talk to their club president ahead of showing proof of vaccination so no deadnaming occurs. She also said handing over IDs upside down might be a way to mitigate the issue.
“I definitely don’t want to understate the importance of protecting trans students and making them feel safe and comfortable,” Benson said.
An ideal solution, Kraantz said, is a process that wouldn’t expose deadnames. Until then, they suggested mitigating the harm by doing a “unified confirmation process.”
“At a clubs level, what that might look like is having someone confirm vaccination status for a member and then keeping a record, so that repeated confirmation is not required at the point of service,” Kraantz said, adding that this is not a perfect solution and still doesn’t address the core issue of deadname exposure.
Fink and Johnstone both suggested using student ID cards instead of government IDs.
However, Benson said in a follow up email to The Ubyssey that according to the current policy, students will have to show government-issued ID.
“While we do have to follow the guidelines set by the public health orders, we do encourage students to voice their concerns to us and we can advocate for them through the appropriate channels,” she wrote.
In the meantime, Kraantz said the EIO is looking into creating a best practice guide for verifying identification.
“I really think that the ideal is the provincial level change, and without it we’re going to be mitigating options that should make things a little bit easier but are still not addressing the central concern of legal name exposure,” they said.