Canada’s oldest rape crisis centre has been stripped of city funding for refusing to accept trans women in some of its services.
Vancouver Rape Relief and Women’s Shelter said it was the victim of “discrimination against women in the name of inclusion” after refusing to change its policy of only offering some services to female-born women.
Vancouver City Council approved this year’s funding for the centre, $34,312 (£19,500) at a March 14 meeting but described it as termination funding.
The council said no further funding will be awarded to the rape crisis centre until it accommodates transgender women.
Councillor Christine Boyle said the centre’s policy went against the city’s policy of welcoming all people.
"Trans women are women and sex work is work. Trans women & sex workers deserve care & protection. I can’t support orgs who exclude them, so I won’t be supporting city funding for #Vancouver Rape Relief. I hope we can redirect funds to an inclusive provider,” she wrote.
Vancouver Rape Relief, which opened in 1973, strictly bans men from its premises to protect its clients, all of whom are recovering from male violence.
“Even deep voices, male insignia like baseball caps and boots can make women nervous,” Lee Lakeman, one of the centre’s founders, wrote in 2006.
The centre maintains that there is an essential experience that comes from being born in the body of a woman that shapes some of its core services, but said it would see to the safety of anyone who calls its crisis line.
"Transgender people deserve and must live in safety and have the equal rights and opportunities that are promised to us all. When it comes to our services, we have a collective commitment to see to the safety anyone who calls our crisis line, including transgender people," the centre said in a statement.
But it went: "The fact that we are born female and raised as girls to adulthood as women shapes our lives in profound ways… And from that place, in a woman-only space, with other women, who have the shared experience of being born without a choice to the oppressed class of women we come together to organize and strategize our resistance and our fight for women’s liberation."
Discrimination on the basis of gender identity or expression is explicitly prohibited in Canada. People who disagree with Canada's laws have the right to advocate for change.
— Morgane Oger M.S.M. (@MorganeOgerBC) January 18, 2019
The centre accused the city council of trying to "coerce us to change our position" and to "undermine our autonomy as a women’s group – to decide who we serve, who our membership is and who we organize with".
However the measure has been was cheered by activists who have long protested against Vancouver Rape Relief for what they call “trans-exclusionary” behaviour.
One activist tweeted: "Vancouver Rape Relief’s policy to exclude raped women who are transgender or transsexual is discriminatory based on gender identity, which is explicitly prohibited in British Columbia since 2016."