Transsexual Woman Doesn't Have Experience to be Rape Councillor: Group

Wednesday, December 13, 2000

by Terri Theodore, Vancouver Sun, December 13, 2000 

Women who have been sexually assaulted could be further traumatized if they arrive at a crisis centre and find a worker "who looks like a man wearing a woman's dress," says a spokeswoman for the Vancouver Rape Relief Society. 

The society is defending itself against charges it discriminated against Kimberly Nixon when Nixon was denied a volunteer counselling job because she was once a man. Nixon, an Ontario bush pilot before her sex-change operation 10 years ago, has taken the society to a B.C. Human Rights Tribunal. 

But Suzanne Jay, the society's spokeswoman, said outside the hearing Tuesday the society must take into account the sensitivities of the women they counsel. 

Jay said Nixon simply can't relate to the female experience, even though Nixon has said she herself has been sexually assaulted by a man. 

"She has never had to deal with the worry of pregnancy after sex whether it's sexual assault or not, never had the experience of wondering how to deal with a neighbour or a family friend who is suddenly looking at her differently because she has breasts now as a 13-year-old," said Jay. 

"Those sorts of experiences form the basis of our shared experience and our deciding what's different about what needs to change for women." 

Lawyers for the society have submitted a legal brief to the tribunal saying their position is reasonable. 

"Rape relief says life experience of growing up being treated as a girl and woman is a bona fide occupational requirement for its peer counsellors," the brief says. 

But Nixon, who is tall, has streaked shoulder length hair and a hushed feminine-sounding voice, said Tuesday she always felt she was female. 

She began dressing up in women's clothing as a small child and wore women's underwear for years. She began living life as a woman 16 years ago. 

Nixon has a partner and a four-year-old child. 

She signed on for the Rape Relief training program in 1995 after recovering from an unhealthy relationship with a man who subjected her to emotional and physical abuse. 

But Nixon said she was called aside during a coffee break at the first training session, subjected to what she felt was insensitive questioning, then told she was not welcome to continue the training. 

Nixon said she was hurt and humiliated. She filed a complaint with the B.C. Human Rights Commission. 

Nixon told the tribunal hearing Tuesday she is a private person but came forward because "this type of work means so much to me. I'm willing to sacrifice my own privacy." 

Nixon said she went to Rape Relief because she had been on social assistance for a long time. 

"I wanted to do the work, it’s about having a goal of purpose in life." 

She was challenged by Victoria Gray, the society's lawyer. 

"Your personal wish to be productive was more of a concern for you than those women in crisis?" 

"Absolutely not," Nixon responded. 

The B.C. Human Rights Commission is supporting Nixon's position that there was discrimination. 

Commission counsel Deirdre Rice has noted there have been four previous rulings in British Columbia - one in court and three by the tribunal - in which women were supported in complaints of discrimination on the basis of being transsexual. 

Jay said a decision against Rape Relief could have implications for similar organizations across the country.