It was a bitter litigation that pitted two gay men against each other.
At the centre of this acrimonious case heard by the B.C. Human Rights Tribunal was a photograph.
The image was of Shangzhou Li wearing a purple dress and heels.
It was taken from the garden of his landlord, John Raymond Brown.
Li sent the photo by phone text to Brown while Brown and his husband, Clay Brown, were having a romantic dinner at a restaurant.
It was the same image that Brown eventually showed to Li’s workplace supervisor, an act that the tribunal found to be in contravention of the B.C. Human Rights Code.
After hearing the case in Victoria, tribunal chair Diana Juricevic determined that Brown violated Section 7 (1) (A), which prohibits the publication of an image that “indicates discrimination or an intention to discriminate”.
In the case of Li, it was the intent to discriminate because of his gender identity and expression.
Juricevic ordered Brown to pay Li compensation of $5,000 for injury to dignity, feelings, and self-respect.
In her ruling dated October 16, 2018, she noted that while there was little disagreement over the events, Li and Brown have different interpretations of what happened.
“I attribute discrepancies in the testimonies of Mr. Li and Mr. John Brown to the very personal and acrimonious nature of this litigation,” the tribunal chair wrote. “It was clear that they regarded themselves as good people, champions for the gay community, and victims of each other’s misconduct.”
The Browns rented a suite in their house to Li, and the tenant started living there in March 2016.
Citing from submissions in the case, Juricevic recalled that Li “wears casual male clothing and occasionally enjoys wearing female clothing”.
“Mr. Li discussed his sexuality with the Browns,” the tribunal chair wrote. “He wanted to feel comfortable where he lives, and did not want to hide or be someone else. Mr. Li said that, at the time, the Browns knew that he was not openly gay at work.”
The Browns were good hosts, and they invited Li to restaurants and parties.
It was in April 2016 that Li sent Brown a photograph of himself in a dress and heels.
“Mr. Li’s explanations for sending the photo were not consistent,” Juricevic wrote. “On the one hand, Mr. Li said the picture was a friendly gesture and he had no sexual interest in Mr. John Brown. On the other hand, Mr. Li only sent the photo to Mr. John Brown, and not his spouse, while the Browns were enjoying a romantic dinner. Mr. Li did not provide a clear explanation for the timing, other than to say that he was “very proud” of the photo and wanted to show it to Mr. John Brown. Mr. Clay Brown was upset.”
Brown didn’t find the photo to be appropriate. But thinking that Li was “looking for a father figure”, he responded to the text with this message: “You look gorgeous.”
Conflicts later arose during Li’s tenancy.
Li gave notice to the Browns that he is moving out.
The tenancy ended on August 31, 2016, and during the move-out inspection, Brown was upset about the cleanliness of Li’s suite.
In a recording that was surreptitiously done by Li, Brown was heard to have said, “Do you want your employer to see you in a dress?”
Brown also said, “Have a picture of your dress” and “Judge sees you in a dress.”
Brown claimed that he tried to return Li’s deposit. Li, for his part, filed proceedings with the Residential Tenancy Branch to reclaim his deposit.
“By his own admission, Mr. John Brown was furious,” Juricevic wrote in her ruling. “From his perspective, Mr. Li had concocted a legal proceeding to claim a damage deposit that he refused to accept six months earlier. Mr. John Brown visited Mr. Li’s workplace a short time later.”
On February 20, 2017, Brown went to Li’s workplace, and showed a photograph of Li wearing a dress to his supervisor, Stephen Evans.
Brown claimed that he showed the photo to confirm whether Li was working at that place, an assertion that Juricevic found as “simply not plausible”.
According to Juricevic, Brown’s act was “intended to embarrass Mr. Li in his place of employment”.
“Mr. Li was vulnerable in his workplace, and Mr. John Brown exploited that vulnerability,” the tribunal chair wrote.
Moreover, Juricevic noted that it was also an “attempt to interfere with his employment.”
“In this case, Mr. John Brown did not explicitly threaten to have Mr. Li fired, but his conduct in February 2017, when he went to his tenant’s workplace and showed a photograph of him in a dress to his supervisor, reveals an attempt to interfere with his employment,” Juricevic wrote.