Ontario minor hockey makes transgender training mandatory for coaches

Education on transgender athletes is mandatory for all of Ontario’s minor hockey coaches, trainers and managers this season, the latest step in a series of changes stemming from a human rights complaint filed by a transgender teen in 2013.

A pair of online training modules must be completed by Sunday, or within a month of the person being assigned to a team. Non-compliance means the coach, manager or trainer will not be registered by their minor hockey association.

The Ontario Hockey Federation, Hockey Eastern Ontario and Hockey Northwestern Ontario have rolled out training materials on understanding discrimination based on gender identity and gender expression, as well as a guide to dressing room policy.

"It’s something new in our society we’re just not used to and it’s good information to have if that situation were to arise," said Mitchell, Ont., bantam coach Tyler Tolton.

Jesse Thompson, a transgender player from Oshawa, Ont., got the ball rolling on gender inclusion in minor hockey with his complaint to the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario some four years ago.

Thompson, who was 17 at the time, felt being forced by a league official to change in a separate dressing room during the 2012-13 season "outed" him and exposed him to harassment and bullying. At that time, Hockey Canada’s co-ed dressing room policy required male and female players aged 11 years and older to change in separate dressing rooms. The policy was applied based anatomical sex, not gender identity.

Thompson’s complaint led to Ontario’s minor hockey branches agreeing in 2014 to change dressing room policies and educate personnel on transgender inclusion. A dressing room policy implemented a year ago stated athletes who identify as transgender can use a dressing room corresponding to their gender identity.

This season’s mandatory training makes understanding and accommodating trans athletes required reading.

"It provides information on gender itself, explaining what gender identity is and what makes up gender identity and expression," OHF executive director Phillip McKee said in a recent interview. "It provides information on how to provide an inclusive environment. There also an implementation guide that’s been provided on our website as far as dressing room implementation and what you can do in that situation."

Adapting to facilities of varying ages and design may require advance homework, according to Tolten.

"Every facility is different too," he said. "If you’re going to an away arena you’re not familiar with, that arena would have to know the situation as well."

Minor hockey branches outside Ontario have yet to adopt transgender policies. The issue has yet to be tabled for discussion at Hockey Canada’s annual general meetings, according to a spokeswoman.

"This is a model that was based out of an Ontario Human Rights Commission settlement and applies only to Ontario," McKee said. "It’s not a Hockey Canada program. It’s an Ontario-based program that’s in place.

"Saying that, there may be an adaptation later on, but that’s up to Hockey Canada."

The modules were developed in consultation with Egale Canada, an organization that champions LGBT human rights.

As of Tuesday, about 21,500, more than 60 per cent, had completed the modules, said McKee. He expected that number to accelerate as more people are assigned to teams.

One concern expressed is the length of time it takes to complete the courses.

"It’s about two hours in length for individuals to participate and complete the course at a fast pace," McKee said.

But Tolton, who is an assistant coach of the Huron-Perth Lakers bantam team, said it took him about 90 minutes to work through the materials.

He acknowledged the training sessions add to the workload of new volunteer coaches and managers.

"From my standpoint, already having all the other certifications from years past, this wasn’t much for me to do," he said.

"I didn’t find it an issue, but for a new coach that’s coming in and needs to do the gender identity modules, the respect-in-sport modules and then a coaching clinic as well, it can be a little daunting for that coach to get started as a volunteer.

"But at the same time, it’s worth the hour and a half."