Several community leaders and politicians have condemned the NPA board for vetoing the candidacy of a transgender sex-trade workers’ advocate. In a demonstration outside Little Sister’s Book & Art Emporium on September 2, nearly a dozen speakers took turns explaining why they thought Jamie Lee Hamilton, a long-time crusader on behalf of the missing women on the Downtown Eastside, was a worthy candidate for public office.
“There are far too many vulnerable women and men on our streets—we don’t know if they’ll be around a week from now—and nothing is being done about it,” said Little Sister’s cofounder and veteran activist in the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender community, Jim Deva, at the rally. “And Jamie Lee would have done something about it.”
In late August, the Non-Partisan Association’s board of directors decided not to allow Hamilton to seek a party nomination for the park board. Deva, a friend of Hamilton’s for 30 years, told the crowd of about 50 people that he was “absolutely furious” when he heard of the decision. “We have to get people knowing about this,” Deva said in a voice filled with emotion. “It just cannot be swept under the carpet.”
Deva emphasized that Hamilton would have brought an important perspective to the park board, not only as a transgender sex-trade worker but also as a person of aboriginal descent. “Our sex-trade workers are not allowed to talk about their problems,” Deva said. “They are somehow shut down. And we’ve never had a decent debate in this city, at any level, in which we asked our sex-trade workers to come in and sit down and together we will solve that problem. And Jamie Lee would have helped with that process.”
Transgender-rights advocate Sandra LaFramboise told the crowd that no political party has any business telling people like herself and Hamilton that they can’t seek public office in 2008. “Wake up,” she said. “We had a premier of this province who is a convicted criminal, so why not have prostitutes or a madam running for office?”
Former NPA councillor Alan Herbert pointed out that as justice minister in the 1960s, Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau decriminalized homosexuality. Herbert said that before then, a gay man like himself would have been sent to jail if he was caught making love to another man. And if Herbert had wanted to run for public office at that time, he would have been dumped from the slate instantaneously.
“Civil rights weren’t built in a day, but one thing is they can be lost in a day,” he said. “That’s something that I’ve always been fearful of.”
Two federal candidates in Vancouver Centre, the Green party’s Adriane Carr and the NDP’s Michael Byers, and NDP provincial candidate Spencer Herbert each said a few words in condemnation of what they saw as discriminatory actions by the NPA board of directors. Sex-trade worker Sue Davis declared that she thought it was “disgusting” that the NPA had ignored an opportunity to bring Hamilton’s voice to the table.
The demonstration ended with Hamilton delivering a passionate and often-amusing speech. She said that she had supported NPA councillor Peter Ladner’s bid to oust Sam Sullivan as the party’s mayoral candidate. However, she said she realized that she had a problem when Ladner declined to attend an event in late July supporting her candidacy.
“He said at that time, ”˜Well, Jamie Lee, I really want to support you and I feel really good about all the support you’ve given me and all the members that you’ve signed up to help me defeat Sam Sullivan. But you know, I can’t be seen to be offside with the board if they decide not to put you through,’ ” Hamilton said. “Well, I knew at that moment I was not going to be put through.”
Hamilton, who describes herself as an on-again, off-again sex-trade worker, said that she was asked many questions about her sex life during the party’s screening process, including whether or not she was “soliciting men”.
She identified Doug Leung, husband of NPA park commissioner Heather Holden, as her chief interrogator. “They just delved into so many things about my bedroom,” she said. “Finally, after an hour and a half of this, I had had enough.”
Hamilton said she is proud of doing what she needed to do in order to survive. And now, she said, she wants to give back to others.
“I don’t want gay, lesbian, transgendered people, transsexuals feeling any shame about who they are,” Hamilton declared. “And I don’t want our First Nations people, because of inactions by legislative bodies, [to feel] that they need to hang their head in shame. And when we want to achieve fairness and justice, we have to have legislative change.”
NPA mayoral candidate Peter Ladner did not return a call to discuss the board’s refusal to allow Hamilton to run as an NPA candidate. Ladner carries an endorsement from Hamilton on his Web site that describes her as a “community leader”. Hamilton told the Georgia Straight that she wants Ladner to remove the comment.
“It’s not my intent to endorse a closeted Republican,” Hamilton said. At the rally, she pledged to give the NPA a “shit kicking” in the period leading up to the November civic election. However, she praised NPA park-board candidate Christopher Richardson, who was the only NPA candidate present at the event, for not being afraid to stand up to the “backroom boys that control our political system”.
Richardson declined the Straight’s request for an interview. “My presence is voice enough,” he said.
NPA councillor Suzanne Anton told the Straight in a phone interview that she likes Hamilton and thinks she is very intelligent. Anton also praised Hamilton’s courage.
“She writes a really good blog,” Anton added. “She stands up to DERA [the Downtown Eastside Residents Association] when other people don’t want to take on challenges like that. I actually think that makes her a really interesting person, and that’s why I like her, and why I supported her when she said she was going to go into politics.”
However, Anton also said she has “utmost faith” in the NPA board. “They work really hard,” she claimed. “They make decisions for reasons which they know and which I’m not going to comment on. I’ve heard them allude to what those reasons are, but first of all, I wouldn’t tell you even if I knew. Secondly, I wasn’t in the room, so it would be hard for me to say exactly what they [the reasons] are, anyway. They’re good people.”
NPA president Ned Pottinger told the Straight in a September 3 phone interview that Hamilton was not denied an opportunity to run because of her gender identity or because she has worked in the sex trade. He wouldn’t elaborate on the board’s reasons for not allowing her name to be put forward to the membership at a September 13 nomination meeting.
“We look at all aspects of a candidate—what they’ve been involved in politically, how they’ve represented themselves, and how they present themselves to us, what we get back from people who we’ve worked with in the past,” Pottinger said. “We look at how they will interact with our team, our campaign messages, and we make a decision based on that.”
He added: “I think that Jamie Lee’s reaction to the whole process is part of the problem that we were concerned about with her as a candidate. She has a tendency to have her own perspective on things, and I think people recognize that.”
In the past, Hamilton has written on her blog that she felt Holden was in a “perceived conflict” in connection with voting on a park-board concession policy that could have had an effect on the Vancouver aquarium, Holden’s employer at the time. Hamilton has also condemned the expansion of the aquarium, which is an issue that NPA park commissioners have steadfastly supported over the years.
One of the speakers at the September 2 rally, NPA member David Wong, told the Straight beforehand that he thinks the board should have allowed party members to make the decision, rather than having “backroom boys” vet the candidates. “It comes across now as something very undemocratic,” Wong claimed.
Pottinger, however, said that the screening process weeds out approximately 50 percent of the people who inquire about obtaining NPA nominations. He said that the board is not “afraid” of letting the membership make the decision, but that directors want to ensure candidates fit in with the team and the message of the campaign.