Response to Vancouver Women’s Library

This is a repost of an open letter that was publicly posted by Gays Against Gentrification and written  by an anonymous group of people in so-called Vancouver, Canada. We are posting it here to ensure its visibility and longevity as it is a part of local trans and trans sex worker history.


*This note is being shared by GAG on behalf of a group composed of sex workers, trans women, IBPOC, queers, and people in solidarity with them, in opposition to the opening of the Vancouver Women’s Library. This note is to be copied and shared by other groups in solidarity with those leading the action this evening*

“We are writing this list of demands in response to the opening of the Vancouver Women’s Library. With the ongoing violence against trans women, sex workers, and IBPOC (Indigenous, Black, and People of Colour) perpetuated by one of the main organizers paired with the exclusion of work that centers trans women and sex workers we came together as a group including: sex workers, trans women, POC, queers, and people in solidarity. We demand the following, because there is nothing radical about replicating settler-colonial violence, transmisogyny, and whorephobia*.

*If you are not a sex worker this term is not for you.

TERF (Trans-Exclusionary Radical Feminism) : Trans Exclusionary Feminism, also known as Trans Women Exterminationist Feminism, is a loosely-organized group with a message of hate and exclusion against transgender women in particular, and transgender people as a whole. They have attached themselves to radical feminism as a means to deny trans women basic access to health care, women’s groups, housing, jobs, support services, restroom facilities, and anywhere that may be considered women’s space. TERFs are complicit in the deaths of trans women, by outing them, promoting the denial of needed government services, and creating the myth of trans women as sexually predatory men in disguise.

SWERF (Sex Worker Exclusionary Radical Feminism) : Sex-Worker Exclusionary Radical Feminism or SWERF, is a group who advocate for criminalization of sex work, see sex work as inherent exploitation with no recognition of autonomy and agency of sex workers and seek to control people’s bodies much like the state. They enact violence on sex workers by working to deny their access to resources and support. They work alongside the colonial government to pass bills that do direct violence to sex workers, such as, Bill C-36 (see inside).

OUR DEMANDS FOR ACCOUNTABILITY TO THE ORGANIZERS

  1. The library needs to be transparent about its funding, organizing policies and affiliations with other institutions, both within the academic system and outside of it.
  2. The library must elect a new board that is comprised of women that reflect the breadth of experience in our community, so that the organizing committee is not entirely cis and white.
  3. The library needs to have a policy of not featuring titles that are written by non-trans women and non-sex workers that dehumanize, speak over and advocate harm towards trans women and sex workers. We have enclosed a list of books from the catalogue that perpetrate these issues.
  4. The library needs to include a vast array of books written by women of colour, sex workers, incarcerated women, and trans women about their lived experiences. We are currently compiling a comprehensive list of suggestions that we will share when the other demands are met.
  5. Current organiser Em Laurent must step down as an organizer and end her involvement with the library because her presence is not safe for community members and after years of violence enacted against women, sex workers and queers, accountability will be a very long process.
  6. The organizers must also enter into a public meeting with the communities that it aims to serve to discuss the harm done to marginalized women in the community and how the library can move forward.

CONTEXT

  1. Transparency about funding and affiliations is important as historically all of the organizers have been linked to an organization that does not support trans women, active drug users, or active sex workers and collectives that call for the exclusion of trans women and femmes, abolition of sex workers rights, and that center a feminism that excludes anyone who is not white, cisgender, or doesn’t fit into western constructs of womanhood.
  2. We don’t need another Mich fest! Cis white women are the beneficiaries of white supremacy. People who are the most affected by police brutality, settler colonialism, racialized violence, incarceration, gentrification, sexual violence, ableism and houselessness can and should be the people creating safer spaces for those most impacted by these experiences.
  3. TERFs and SWERFs are complicit in violence against sex workers and trans women and it is imperative that we do not let this violence go unnoticed. The same ideology and praxis of hate is present and replicated in right-wing/alt-right/neo-nazi organizing. TERFs and SWERFs organize for the same violent policies and work in partnership with right-wing hate groups to replicate settler-colonial white-supremacist constructions of cisheteropatrarchy that outright reject, erase, and deny IBPOC sovereignty, body sovereignty, and all peoples that do not fit under euro-centric nativism. VWL has employed a number of tactics to undermine our requests for accountability. We ask supporters, organizers, and those not directly impacted to interrogate the tactics being employed with mainstream and social media. Organizers refuse public conversations, won’t engage with those who are directly impacted, and refuse to speak to the violence they have enacted with the VWL and organizing outside of it. Their use of ‘self-identified women’ as a shallow tactic of distraction. The moniker ‘self-identified’ is used by cis women as a move to innocence from their complicity in violence against trans women. It is used to mark trans women as ‘Other’ and centre themselves again as victims of patriarchy. This will not stand. To be a women’s space is to be open to all women, and specifically, to women who systemically experience the most violence. To be a woman’s space and build community is to be accountable and to step back to do work when you’ve done harm. Organizers have continually dodged and avoided both.
  4. It is vital to move beyond basic inclusion and instead focus on centering the experiences of those of us most marginalized by systemic violence. Including books written by women of complex marginalized intersecting identities.
  5. We request that Em Laurent steps down as an organizer in respect to the countless trans women, sex workers, trans people, IBPOC, and queers she has done direct personal harm to and the violence she has enacted through systems of oppression (abolitionism, transmisogyny, violence, and white supremacy). We ask for transparency from organizers of VWL in regards to acknowledging those of us affected by her participation in TERF and SWERF organizing against us. As of yet, none of the organizers have engaged in dialogue about the multitudes of violence committed against our communities over many years and instead have insisted we are doing harm to a woman for acts of the past. We know that historicizing violence as issues of the past* is used to secure and further systemic violence. If Em wishes to move on from past acts of violence she should step down as an organizer and engage in accountability processes with the communities and peoples she has harmed. Lack of accountability is not an option. VWL will not be a safe space until the people enacting violence on our communities step back. *See below for acts of harm. We recognize that organizers have started denying that they are TERFs and SWERFs and have documentation of their acts of violence, exclusionary ideology and praxis, along with personal experiences and experiential knowledge.
  6. At the very least the organizers of this library need to be accountable to the communities they are both looking to serve as well as the communities they have/are actively harming through their lack of transparency, centring of whiteness, and the erasure and silencing of trans women, trans people who exist outside of the gender binary, IBPOC, and sex workers. It is not enough to request private meetings while continuing to silence, gaslight, and harm us. We will not settle for conversations that put those of us who have experienced violence at the hands of organizers in unsafe positions. We demand for our voices to be heard and to be given the space to speak for ourselves without threats of retribution, criminalization, and dehumanizing tactics.

Books to remove:

  • Admission Accomplished – Jill Johnston
  • Against Sadomasochism – Robin R. Linden, Darlene R. Pagano, Diana E. Russell, Susan Leigh Star
  • Amazon Odyssey: Collection of Writings – Ti-Grace Atkinson
  • Buddhism after Patriarchy – Rita M. Gross
  • The Female Man – Joana Russ
  • Female Sexual Sl*v*ry – Kathleen Barry
  • Feminism Unmodified – Catharine A. Mackinnon
  • First Buddhist Women: Poems and Stories of Awakening Susan Murcott
  • Gyn/Ecology – Mary Daly
  • The Idea of Prostitution – Sheila Jeffreys
  • The Industrial Vagina: The Political Economy of the Global Sex Trade – Sheila Jeffreys
  • Intercourse – Andrea Dworkin
  • The Lesbian Heresy – Sheila Jeffreys
  • Nine Parts of Desire: The Hidden World of Islamic Women – Geraldine Brooks
  • Not a Choice, Not a Job: Exposing the Myths about Prostitution and the Global Sex Trade – Janice Raymond
  • Not for Sale: Feminists Resisting Prostitution and Pornography-Of Women Born – Adrienne Rich
  • Pornography: Men Possessing Women – Andrea Dworkin
  • Radical Acceptance – Tara Brach
  • The Sexual Liberals and the Attack on Feminism – Janice Raymond
  • Women As Wombs: Reproductive Technologies and the Battle over Women’s Freedom – Janice Raymond

Acts of Violence

The organizers have ties to a local exclusionary rape shelter (LERS), a TERF/SWERF organization that has caused harm in the following ways:

  • They are anti sex work (SW) and actively support legislation that criminalizes SWers. Specifically, they were one of the sources the conservative Canadian government consulted in their decision to implement Bill C-36 (2014). They wrote a letter of endorsement for Bill C-36 where they claimed the bill aligned with their analysis around the “exploitation of women”. While the LERS claim to want to protect marginalized women engaged in SW, their “abolitionist” approach is detrimental and does the opposite. Their savior complex is rooted in hate and violence. In framing SW as exploitative and declaring all SW as ‘inherent rape’ SWERFs reify SW and sexual violence as a ‘social’ problem erasing the systemic issues. Specifically, the impact of settler-colonial misogyny and violence on Indigenous SWers paired with the violent impacts of policing, incarceration, and colonialism without honouring Indigenous sovereignty, decolonial praxis, and anti-racist work. This bill harms sex workers by criminalizing the purchase SWers are forced to take more risks and work in hidden spaces. Bill C-36 criminalizes SW in every way possible, placing blame for any violence during a transaction on SWers. The Bill and the support from the LERS, removes agency from SWers and puts them in greater danger. Bill C-36 is a way to criminalize sex work in its entirety, under the guise of protecting the most marginalized and those being exploited and trafficked. Many have pointed out that there are ample laws in place within the legal system that prohibit trafficking.
  • This organization has a highly transphobic history, and current practice. They have a “women only” space policy that excludes trans women on the basis that they were not “socialized as women.” In 1995, they prevented Kimberly Nixon, a trans woman, from attending a program to train volunteers at the shelter on the basis that she “did not share the same life experiences.” Nixon filed a human rights complaint against them immediately, and in 2000, she was finally awarded money on the grounds of discrimination. However, this organization could not be satisfied, and took the case back for judicial review, attempting to prove that they were not being discriminatory, and in 2003 they were found not guilty, despite their clear discrimination and transphobia.”

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