Jessica Cooper: As a transsexual person, I have no rights

By Jessica Cooper

Special coverage

I have no rights. I have no right to freedom from discrimination. I have no right to secure employment. I have no right to a safe place to live. I don’t even have the right to go to the washroom in peace. It’s amazing that I can sit here in the 21st century, in Canada, and be able to say that.

Let me say that again slightly differently: Because I’m a transsexual person, I have no right to legal protection in case I get discriminated against for being trans. None at all. How does this happen? It happens because transsexuals are one of the last populations not covered under Canada’s (not to say anything about British Columbia’s) human-rights legislation.

Because of this lack, Vancouver Rape Relief and Women’s Shelter was able to exclude Kimberly Nixon simply because she was assigned male at birth. This case was taken all the way to the Supreme Court of Canada, where on February 1, 2007, the cisgendered (the opposite of transgendered) judges decided to leave transpeople in legal limbo. They decided that Kimberly is not enough of a woman to be allowed to work at a women’s shelter. Because of this decision, my brothers, sisters, and I can be kicked out of any public space, we can be fired simply for the crime of being ourselves, we can be evicted without recourse, and we can be reviled, harassed, and even physically attacked merely for daring to use a public washroom.

Granted, few of these things have happened to me because I’m one of the lucky ones. I’m just another middle-aged woman. I blend in well enough that on most days the very worst that will happen to me is someone will get a puzzled look on their face as they try and fit me into one of two mental boxes in their head marked “male” or “female”. Some of my brothers and especially sisters are not so lucky. They don’t “pass”. They visibly bend the boundaries of gendered expression, which threatens the identities of cisgendered people. Threatened people tend to react violently. They may attack, verbally or physically. They may withhold essential services.

Tyra Hunter was a transwoman in Washington, D.C., who in 1995 was allowed to bleed to death by emergency workers, who stopped treating her after discovering she was trans and stood back cracking jokes while she bled and suffered in front of them. Later after finally being transported to a hospital, she was left to die, having received almost no care. None of the emergency workers and hospital staff who stood back and let her die were ever disciplined.

Threatened employers may choose to fire a transperson rather than be forced to work with them. Threatened landlords may decide to evict a transperson. Even the most fundamental portion of my identity is not mine to control; anyone at any time may choose to deny my identity and impose their own perceptions upon me. It happens every time I get called “sir”.

This has implications that go far beyond the boundaries of the trans community. How many butch lesbians have been asked to leave a washroom? How many gay males were bullied in school for being “a sissy”? How many times has a homophobic act really been motivated by the transgression of gender norms? Transgressing gender norms is one of the severest social “crimes”, and the punishment is swift and brutal. Right now, all of what I have listed above is legal. Anyone can do any of these horrible things and get away with it.

Transpeople are treated equally brutally by the media. It’s still socially acceptable to laugh at us, label us deceivers, hyper-sexualize us, and make our struggles with our bodies the sole factor of our existence. Look at the characters of Dil in The Crying Game, Lois Einhorn in Ace Ventura: Pet Detective, Roberta Muldoon in The World According to Garp. Look at the controversy surrounding Isis on America’s Next Top Model, and the sordid mess that was There’s Something About Miriam. The media teaches that treating transsexuals badly is okay, that we’re not “real” enough to warrant compassion and decent treatment.

This situation is intolerable, and it must not be allowed to continue. All is not bleak, however; a solution is being worked toward. Last summer, B.C.’s Trans Alliance Society began circulating a petition asking the legislature to amend the B.C. Human Rights Code “so as to include and to specify ”˜gender identity and gender expression’ as a prohibited ground of discrimination for all purposes of that legislation in British Columbia”.

I have no rights. So, how about it, Gordon Campbell, may I have my rights?

Jessica Cooper is just another middle-aged woman with a colourful past. She works for a national retail chain designing department stores, and when she’s not doing that she’s fighting for the right of transpeople to be themselves with dignity. She encourages anyone (trans or cisgendered) who wishes to fight beside her to contact the Trans Alliance Society.

Comments (67) Add New Comment
From Gordon Campbell? I somehow doubt it. The same goes for Harper.

But you already know I'm on your side. Thanks for writing this.
Rating: -8
ezekiel bones
Yeah, thanks for writing this.

-mental hug-

I hope that someday soon this injustice will be addressed.
Rating: +1
Commentary “Jessica Cooper: As a transsexual person, I have no rights”
I would like to correct the inaccurate account and portrayal of Vancouver Rape Relief and Women’s Shelter. First Vancouver Rape Relief and Women’s Shelter was one of the first equality seeking groups that argued to the BC government that transsexuals be included in the human rights code.
Second, Ms Cooper’s assertion that because of the decision made by the Canadian courts in favor of Vancouver Rape Relief and Women’s Shelter that “, my brothers, sisters and I can be kicked out of any public space, we can be fired simply for the crime of being ourselves, we can be evicted without recourse and we can be reviled, harassed and physically attacked merely for daring to use a public washroom” is untrue and inaccurate in terms of existing human rights law. While I can empathize with her frustration about society’s prejudices they are not the result of the case brought against us or our actions. The decision that came down meant that women’s groups such as Vancouver Rape Relief and indeed groups of transsexual and transgendered persons have the legal right to determine their own membership. In addition we believe it is important for raped and battered women to have the choice of a women-only peer group for support. Here is a more accurate description of the decision made in this case:
“The Human Rights Tribunal had previously ruled that Rape Relief’s decision to allow into the training program only women who had been born and raised as girls and women was rationally connected to Rape Relief’s work of counseling women victims of sexual assault and fighting male violence and women’s inequality. The Tribunal also held that that Rape Relief’s decision was made in good faith.”
Summary of Decision: Provided by: Gwendoline Allison, Bull, Housser & Tupper LLP and Professor Christine Boyle, University of British Columbia School of Law.
Both the writer and the Georgia Straight should be more careful in checking the accuracy of comments. This would not be hard to do since we have always been clear and transparent in our case and a timeline of the case, court transcripts and a summary of the decision can all be found on our website
Inaccurate and misleading comments undermine the important work we do.
Vancouver Rape Relief shelters houses over 100 women each year along with 70-80 of the battered women’s children. Each year the 24-hour rape crisis line receives new calls from 1,300-1,400 women dealing with rape, sexual assault, incest, battering and sexual harassment.

Daisy Kler
Vancouver Rape Relief and Women’s Shelter

Rating: 0
Daisy, all your fine words serve to illustrate your cisprivilege. Do you allow transsexuals to work at Rape Relief? No, you do not. Do you provide counselling for transsexuals who have been raped? No, you do not. You discriminate, and the Supreme Court has upheld your right to discriminate. You, being a "Woman born woman[1]" intrinsically have more rights before the law than I do. The Supreme Court of Canada says you do. This is the injustice all your spin cannot hide. Because of this decision's precedent, other organisations are free to use the very same arguments you used to discriminate against us. The "protections" you talk about are no protection for us at all. Until protection from discrimination based on gender identity and gender expression is added to the BC Human Rights Code, you and everyone else are free to continue to discriminate as you do to this very day.

I freely admit that Rape Relief provides a vital service. However it is a discriminatory service, it always has been a discriminatory service, and your very words here show me that it will always continue to be a discriminatory service until such discrimination is made illegal. If you were truly interested in eliminating such discrimination, we would not be needing to ask for this legislation and you would not need to go to such effort to defend your indefensible position.

In your efforts to "clarify" and undermine, you make my point far better than I did. I judge this an “own goal”; your spin attempt scored for me, not for you. Thank you for arguing my point.

[1]”Woman born woman” are the Radical Feminists' code words for “transwomen are really men therefore they must be treated that way. We can legally exclude them from womens' space without penalty.”.
Rating: +2
Sarah Brown
I think Daisy made a mistake in her response:

"In addition we believe it is important for raped and battered women to have the choice of a women-only peer group for support."

*some* raped and battered women. *some*. The message for trans women like myself is loud and clear - if we're attacked physically or sexually, we're on our own.
Rating: -6
Thank you, Daisy, for again showing us that we're not women.

We'll be raped as women, spat on as women, harassed as women, and we aren't allowed to help other women.

But other than that, no discrimination at all.

You don't consider us women. You consider us something else at best. That's called discrimination; if you don't understand the word, maybe you shouldn't be talking about the topic so much.
Rating: +10
Alice Chapman
"In addition we believe it is important for raped and battered women to have the choice of a women-only peer group for support"

So, Daisy, by these very words it seems that you are asserting that transwomen are not women.

This is a very cis privileged and discriminatory stance. Transwomen are women and deserve the very same protections in law and access to support services that cis women have.
Rating: +3
Lisa Harney

as long as Vancouver Rape Relief excludes trans women, you can't rightly call your policy "women only." I suggest "Some Women Only."

Also, when will VRR stop hosting anti-trans hate speech on its website? Why is it so important to maintain a webspace with numerous articles claiming that trans women are horrible invaders seeking to destroy women-only space? What is your motivation for this kind of activity?

The fact is that whatever you may claim that VRR agitated for, what you actually did was work very hard to exclude trans women from your services.
Rating: +4
Fine article.

Here's a synopsis of my post: feminism and trans-activism are two sides of the same coin: both believe that people are more than our genitals; that biology isn't destiny. And this alliance works!

My original plan was to build an article around this without reference to Rape-Relief, but it looks like the topic has already been broached. Taking a look at Ms. Kler's objections and comparing them to online copies of judgements, I found discrepancies between the two. And these discrepancies serve to illustrate how anti-trans discrimination *devalues* feminist activism.

In the first petition of RR vs. Ms Nixon (where the judge ruled in favour of Ms. Nixon) Rape Relief asked to have Kimberly Nixon's complaint rejected on legal technicalities to do with timeframes in which a complaint may be launched. Then it went on to specifically outline why judges should *not* extend anti-sexism discrimination legislation to include transsexuals. One reason citied (see section 49 in the link above) was that since homosexuals and bisexuals had not been able to access such protection in the past, transsexuals shouldn't get it now. That's chutzpah! Fortunately they lost both this petition and the case before the tribunal.

Then they appealed it on the grounds that they should be (1) able to define "woman" for themselves, nondiscrimnation statutes notwithstanding - thus opening the way for women's or men's organizations to discriminate along any lines they choose. This precedent frightens me, not least becaue it reminds me of all the women's organiations in my mother's generation which excluded women for being homosexual, bisexual, or being working-class.

Rape Relief further argued that denying someone a volunteer position was not sufficiently awful to count as legal discrimination - setting a precedent that you can discriminate in hiring, as long as it's not for something lucrative. And they won. See link:

These arguments frighten me. As a queer, butch woman, I am subject to other people's opinion of whether I'm really a woman every time I try to use a public washroom or apply for a paid or unpaid position. And these legal precedents don't help. Fortunately, most feminists are aghast at the lack of foresight shown by Rape Relief, and they're the ones I can count on to back me up.

And so I know what I want to see. I want to see the growing majority of women's organizations that include *all* women continue to grow. Every time I go to a women's organization for *all* women, I see transsexual women contributing there. I see that they are proud to finally be able to contribute to women's communites as women. And I see trans organizations that could not have got off the ground were it not for feminist support. And everyone benefits for it.

Yes, Rape Relief provides many (until recently, government-subsidized) services. The same can be said of many other charities who don't like queers (and who also won't mention it when they ask you for money or time), and it doesn't make me like them any better. Yet, for every phobic organization, there are many other organizations that get on just as well, providing the same services, without caring about babyhood genitals or which genders you sleep with. It makes me ask - if inclusive organizations can do everything a phobic organization can do, and they can do it without advancing discrimination, what's all the fuss about? We've proven that we can fix the world together - so why don't we?

And so I like the inclusive organizations better. I give them my time. I trust that their ethic of compassion and sisterhood will triumph over one of erecting walls to keep out whomever's different. And I see this sea change playing out, much to women's benefit. I see the bonds of gender stereotypes eroding from both ends of a strong alliance. I only hope that the future holds more of it.

Amy Fox

For a *very short* list of regional trans-friendly women's organizations, click here

There are a lot more out there. These are just the tip of the iceberg.
Rating: +1
Strange. The links I refer to do not display.

Here is the ruling on the first petition (from 2000)

And on the second (from 2003)
Rating: +3
claudia hillman
I am a transsexual woman in the usa and have no rights beither.I cant get a job or go to school and was told I could not adopt a child because of what I am
Rating: +1
Reader via e-mail
In response to Jessica Cooper's article: "As a Transsexual I have no rights"

I was very sorry to read of the prejudices and lack of rights Ms. Cooper and all transsexuals must endure. It was a brave and candid article. I greatly appreciate Ms. Cooper sharing her experiences in this way. I am concerned, however, that Vancouver Rape Relief and Women's Shelter was referred to out of context and I would like to offer readers another point of view.

Vancouver Rape Relief is an all-female space for women who have experienced male violence. This does not mean the organization is anti-men or anti-transsexual, it just fills a need for women seeking relief who feel they would heal best and are most comfortable in a women-only environment. Vancouver Rape Relief works with many other organizations and supports the objectives of shelters and crisis centres that do not have an all-female policy.

I would urge everyone to read up on Ms. Nixon's case (the Vancouver Rape Relief website is a good start: before passing judgment against Vancouver Rape Relief. Equality for everyone, no matter your gender, is in everyone's best interest. We're all in this together!

Sheila Ballantyne
Rating: -4
Shiela, say what you will to try to make Rape Relief look good, the fact remains that you discriminate, and the Law of the land allows you to discriminate. Rape Relief was not referred to out of context at all. You discriminate.

You said everything Daisy Kler did above and you prove my point just as she did. You say "all female space". You say "woman only environment". You say "all female policy" Therefore you must consider me to be other than a woman. I can draw no other conclusion than that you are anti-trans or else you and your colleagues would not need to work so hard at defending your indefensible position. How do you expect me to believe that you are not anti trans when you turn around and in the VERY NEXT PHRASE prove that you are?

Go ahead, prove me wrong. I dare you. Take down your anti-trans hate speech on your website, allow transwomen to volunteer at Rape Relief and allow transwomen to be counselled. I'm waiting...

Once again your Rape Relief's attempt to deflect from the subject fails. You discriminate and the Supreme Court allowed you (and by that precedent anyone else using your argument) to discriminate. Your rights trump mine. My original point is made yet again. You are "very sorry to read of the prejudices I endure" yet you are not so very quick to do your part in ending them, are you?

Meanwhile, readers can see the whole story of Ms Nixon's case at the links Amy Fox posted in her comment.
Rating: +1
Banging Head Into Desk

Thank you for so clearly missing the point. Thank you for illustrating exactly the kind of prejudice and discrimination that the article's author was talking about. A transwoman participating in a women-only space is not a violation of that space's sanctity or it's safety. It remains a woman-only space even with transwomen in it.

"For those who understand, no explanation is necessary. For those who do not, no explanation is possible."
Rating: +7
Kaitlyn K
one thing you seem to have forgotten Sheila, is that RR has the legal right to say who is "woman enough". There are plenty of women who need an all-female space to heal who are getting turned away from RR. Why are the needs of some women so much more important then the needs of other women?

RR is not an "all-female" space it is a "select-female" space.
Rating: +3
Jessie May
Ms. Ballantyne:

See? You just did it too. You can't help yourself, can you?
You can't say things like "women-only" or "all-female," and mean only non-transsexual women, without being anti-transsexual.

Transsexual women ARE female.
Transsexual women ARE women.

How can you talk about equality, about being in this together, when you can't even write a comment without excluding transsexual women from being women?
Rating: 0
Natalie Murray
I am 'all-woman', (whatever that means), and I have suffered at the hands of male violence in my past. I kept getting beat up because I was different. I was born with the birth defect known as Harry Benjamin Syndrome, which I have since had corrected. I did not have access to either women's spaces and experience, and the men's spaces and experiences were totally foreign to me. So I had neither. I guess the same is true, thanks to the thoughtlessness of VRR and the not-properly-informed-and-educated Supreme Court. So I still have neither. Hopefully the amendment to C250, extending rights and protections to trans folk, will correct this.
Rating: +3
Lisa Harney
Sheila, you say:

"This does not mean the organization is anti-men or anti-transsexual, it just fills a need for women seeking relief who feel they would heal best and are most comfortable in a women-only environment."

On the contrary, it is anti-transsexual (and what does "anti-men" have to do with it?) You're saying you want a space for women seeking relieve who want a women-only environment, and then say that this is best accomplished by excluding *some* women who are transsexual.

You're denying that transsexual women are women. How is this not anti-trans? You're denying a safe space for transsexual women who have been raped. *How is this not anti-trans?*

Why do you think, as a woman who is not yourself transsexual, that you can tell transsexual women what actions we're allowed to find hostile against us?

Why do you imply that transsexual women are not subject to male violence?

And please explain why Vancouver Rape Relief's website hosts scores of articles filled with anti-trans hate speech.
Rating: -16
"I am concerned, however, that Vancouver Rape Relief and Women's Shelter was referred to out of context and I would like to offer readers another point of view."

No, I'm pretty sure you offered precisely the same point of view. "Transsexuals" aren't women.

We got it, Sheila. You don't see us as women. You never will.

Oh, and it's "not discriminatory", because, of course, we're not women to you. And never will be.
Rating: +6

The fact that you're drawing a distinction between "women" and "transsexuals" only serves to illustrate Ms Cooper's point. *It shouldn't matter if a woman is trans* -- any more than it matters if a woman is Chinese or lesbian, or any other category that influences her experience of womanhood. To suggest otherwise is the very essence of discrimination, and to enshrine such distinctions in law is *institutionalized* discrimination.

Your attitude is betrayed by your very words. You're only demonstrating how true Ms Cooper's words are.
Rating: 0


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