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

By Jessica Cooper

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.

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Apr 6, 2009 at 7:04pm

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.

ezekiel bones

Apr 7, 2009 at 7:35pm

Yeah, thanks for writing this.

-mental hug-

I hope that someday soon this injustice will be addressed.


Apr 10, 2009 at 6:52pm

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


Apr 13, 2009 at 4:32pm

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.”.

Sarah Brown

Apr 13, 2009 at 5:06pm

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.


Apr 13, 2009 at 5:18pm

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.

Alice Chapman

Apr 13, 2009 at 5:54pm

"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.

Lisa Harney

Apr 14, 2009 at 12:40am


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 <em>motivation</em> 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.


Apr 14, 2009 at 2:29am

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.