The following statement was delivered by Listen Chen on behalf of Alliance Against Displacement at Vancouver City Hall on Wednesday, March 13, 2018, in response to Vancouver Rape Relief’s application for a Direct Social Services grant. The following day, City Council voted to divest from Vancouver Rape Relief, passing an amendment that the 2019 grant be considered “termination funding.” Read more at The Volcano.
Alliance Against Displacement is an anti-capitalist, anti-colonial organization and we strongly oppose the City of Vancouver awarding Vancouver Rape Relief (VRR) with a Direct Social Services grant or any other funding. VRR’s biologically essentialist, transphobic, colonial definition of gender enacts direct violence onto trans people, especially trans women, and two-spirit people. In addition, their political advocacy violates two of the City of Vancouver’s policies: trans inclusivity, demonstrated by a motion Council passed in July 2015 and the adoption of recommendations from a staff report on trans equality, which included integrating “TGV2S-inclusion into all existing programs and services”; and sex worker safety, demonstrated by the City’s key city priority, which seeks to destigmatize sex work, and the City’s sex worker response guidelines, which emphasize the health and safety of sex workers.
If the City of Vancouver is indeed committed to the safety and inclusion of sex workers and trans people, then it cannot justify funding VRR. Direct Social Services grants must, in the City’s words, “reduce the impact of systemic factors that create conditions of vulnerability.” VRR rallies to preserve and intensify the conditions of vulnerability that put sex worker and trans lives at risk. There is as much merit to VRR’s claim that they can justifiably exclude trans women on the basis that they are “socialized differently” from cis women as there is to the claim that an organization should be able to exclude racialized women because they are “socialized differently” from white women. Both arguments increase the conditions of vulnerability of a more marginalized group for the ostensible benefit of a relatively less marginalized group.
VRR’s ideological project is not to, as they self-describe in their grant application, provide “public education and community outreach aimed at ending violence against women in Vancouver.” Rather, they engage in decisive political lobbying in order to exclude trans people from human rights protection and aim to end violence only against cis women, at the expense of throwing trans women under the bus. As such, Council should see VRR as a political organization that operates in fundamental opposition to the City’s policies around and commitments to trans people and sex workers.
VRR’s political campaigns have included appealing to the Supreme Court to warrant their exclusion of Kimberly Nixon, a survivor of sexual assault and a trans woman, from their volunteer program and more recently, appealing to the Senate to deny Bill C-16. Hilla Kerner, whom you previously heard speak, claimed to the Senate that extending human rights to include protection on the basis of gender identity would “undermine the rights of women and the crucial work of women’s groups.” This kind of either-or construction, wherein cis women’s safety is positioned as oppositional to trans rights, stigmatizes trans women and paints them as violent predators, despite the reality that they are subject to far greater levels of violence – both misogynistic and transphobic – than cis women.
The City of Vancouver’s Sex Work Response Guidelines states that “the historical criminalized and stigmatized nature of sex work has resulted in tremendous abuses towards sex workers in Vancouver.” In 2008, a VRR organizer said that the notion that stigma increases violence against sex workers is “ridiculous” and advocated for the criminalization of sex work with the goal of abolishing it. VRR rejects the phrase “sex work” in favour of the more stigmatizing, criminalizing term “prostitution.” Rather than heed calls from sex workers themselves who demand that their jobs be seen as real work, Rape Relief advocates for the abolition of sex work through criminalization.
VRR espouses trans exclusionary, sex work prohibitionary ideology. They threaten sex worker safety by advocating for the criminalization of sex work and erase the agency of sex workers by sensationally conflating sex work with human trafficking. They promote and stoke violence against trans women by lobbying for definitions of womanhood that exclude and exceptionalize them. The City’s criteria state that organizations applying for Direct Social Services grants must “demonstrate accommodation, welcomeness and openness to people of all ages, abilities, sexual orientation, gender identities (including trans*, gender-variant and two-spirit people)… except in instances where the exclusion of some group is required for another group to be effectively targeted.” Awarding VRR with a grant blatantly contravenes the criteria of accommodation, welcomeness, and openness, and if the City believes that excluding trans women is “required” in order to address the safety of cis women, then it cannot claim to support trans equity or inclusion.