Beyond the Binary at UBC

By: Gabrielle Bonifacio,  Jesse Grimaldi and Dr. Rachael Sullivan

A grassroots, community-led project designed to help educate people on themes of gender identity and inclusion, Beyond the Binary at UBC has been a labour of love for facilitators Jesse Grimaldi and Dr. Rachael Sullivan since 2015.

Grimaldi was inspired to start the project shortly after they were first hired at UBC, citing a gap in public awareness of gender identities outside the binary and an opportunity to push the university to fulfill its commitments to inclusion. Furthermore, they cited a need for meaningful action that would ensure “trans and gender-variant peoples [could] fully participate in all aspects of university life…without discrimination, exclusion, fear [or] violence.”

Grimaldi soon connected with Dr. Rachael Sullivan, an Equity Facilitator and researcher in the area of sexual and gender diversity with a deep commitment to social justice. Both Grimaldi and Sullivan recognize that their social positions—for Grimaldi as a white, settler, trans non-binary, able-bodied, staff member and for Sullivan as a white, cisgender, queer woman with invisible disabilities, respectively—did not constitute the full diversity of the trans, Two Spirit and non-binary community at UBC. They recognized that trans folks of colour, Two Spirit, and trans-Indigenous people still face the greatest barriers in our society today.

Passionate about further embedding gender inclusion within the institution, the pair began outlining a grassroots project that would eventually become an accessible educational resource.

“We wanted something to complement the existing Positive Space campaign so that folks could start learning right away,” Sullivan says, adding that they both envision the video being used as a regular part of staff and faculty HR onboarding programs across campus. Specifically designed for a wide audience, Beyond the Binary at UBC can be utilized at all levels, from faculty members teaching incoming classes about gender inclusion, to staff and students sharing it with their peers.

Thankfully, they received partial funding from the 2015 Equity Enhancement Fund as well as other sponsorships from UBC Human Resources, the Sauder School of Business, the Center for Student Involvement and Careers, and the Student Diversity Initiative. With funds secured, Grimaldi and Sullivan then consulted with campus and community partners with transgender, non-binary, Two Spirit, and gender diverse peoples lived experience.

Centering these voices was integral to the project. Grimaldi and Sullivan are deeply appreciative of those who participated in detailed consultations and research gathering sessions. Additionally, they were supported by colleagues like Hélène Frohard-Dourlent, UBC doctorate students, LJ Slovin and Sam Stiegler, and master’s student, Leah Grantham, who provided literature reviews, draft scripts and editing of the final script into the video that is now available.

To inform the video’s contents, Grimaldi and Sullivan collected data through a questionnaire and several focus groups. It was through these different methods that UBC alumni and current students, staff, and faculty with transgender, non-binary, and Two Spirit, lived experience were able to share their experiences. Subsequent findings from this research only reinforced the urgency and need for accessible resources on gender inclusion across campus. The video serves as a small part of the effort to fill the need for a foundational level of knowledge of gender inclusion and practices at UBC, and sets expectations for gender inclusion across campus systems.

Of course, there were some difficulties throughout the process, especially as it was their first-ever video project. Grimaldi and Sullivan faced limited budgets, and the need for ongoing advocacy to improve gender inclusion at UBC. However, they were able to overcome these challenges by working together and staying focused on their goal of activating positive change alongside the trans, Two Spirit and non-binary community at UBC.

As for motivation, Grimaldi and Sullivan were and continue to be inspired by the transgender, Two Spirit, gender-variant folks and allies across campus who persistently raise their voices and put their lives on the line to demand change at UBC. In this regard, Grimaldi and Sullivan readily state that they are learners too, and that it is crucial for everyone to continue learning and actively working toward a campus where everyone feels safe, supported, welcome and empowered.

“Ultimately, our hope is that the video…sets up a baseline knowledge of gender inclusive practices so that our community takes up gender inclusion as part of all of our regular and everyday interactions, work, and educational experiences.”

Additional Resources 

Gender Diversity

Positive Space

Trans, Two-Spirit and Gender Diversity Task Force

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