VANCOUVER — A transgender woman whose case against Canada’s oldest rape crisis centre was dismissed by the courts says she hopes the City of Vancouver’s decision to refuse the shelter funding will help change policies.
Kimberly Nixon, 61, filed a human rights complaint against Vancouver Rape Relief and Women’s Shelter in 1995 after she was refused training to work as a volunteer peer counsellor on the basis she did not share the life experience of someone born female.
“The organization is not bad,” said Nixon. “It just means that attitudes have to change.”
Nixon’s complaint was upheld by the British Columbia Human Rights Tribunal with a $7,500 reward from Rape Relief, but the B.C. Supreme Court found discrimination had not occurred.
The B.C. Court of Appeal dismissed Nixon’s appeal and the Supreme Court of Canada dismissed her request to appeal that decision in 2007.
The City of Vancouver announced last week that, starting next year, it will no longer provide Rape Relief with a nearly $34,000 annual grant, saying the charitable group does not meet its trans equality and inclusion criteria, adopted in 2016.
“While (Vancouver Rape Relief Society) services have been and are very important, staff identified concerns about the organization’s position on trans women in relation to the full intent of grant criteria,” the city said in a statement.
Hilla Kerner, spokeswoman for Rape Relief, said women who are born female and socialized to submit to male domination do not feel comfortable around women who may appear and sound like men and don’t share the same life experience.
“More often than not, being born female still means we are born as an oppressed class. We haven’t achieved liberation for women yet,” she said.
Rape Relief does not turn transgender women away and often connects them to other services, Kerner said.
She said the group is no different from other organizations that serve people with specific needs, including those who are Indigenous, disabled or migrants.
Morgane Oger, who chairs the Trans Alliance Society, said she has been advocating since 2013 for Rape Relief’s municipal funding to be stopped.
“Vancouver Rape Relief and other organizations that are publicly funded are responsible for keeping up the highest standard of inclusion,” Oger said, adding the group helps only a subset of women.
Adrienne Smith, a human rights lawyer in Vancouver, said all of Smith’s clients are transgender and some of them have said they have been turned away from Rape Relief after a sexual assault.
“Rape Relief takes the position that transgender women are men in dresses and that there’s something inauthentic about them,” Smith said. “Their followers repeat this messaging and it’s fundamentally hurtful to my clients and to trans and non-binary people.”
Smith said Rape Relief has stuck to the same message even as society has changed.
Trans women are sexually assaulted at four times the rate of non-trans women, often by other women, Smith said.
“The Nixon case was wrongly decided and I think it would be decided very differently if it were argued today because decision-makers have a much more clear understanding that transgender women are women,” Smith said.
British Columbia provides about $600,000 in annual funding to Rape Relief, which has a budget of about $1.1 million and opened its doors in 1973.
Nixon said provincial funding should also be reconsidered.
“If the province continues to fund them they are basically enabling their treatment of trans women, or trans people in general,” said Nixon, who recently spoke at an International Women’s Day event at Ryerson University in Toronto.
“I hope the society’s reached a point where they can recognize what is right and what is wrong. So this is just another opportunity for them to make the necessary change.”