It Is Unacceptable: A Statement on International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers

Coalition Against Trans Antagonism (CATA)’s work is conducted on the ancestral and unceded territory of the Coast Salish peoples, which include the xʷməθkwəy̓əm (Musqueam), Sḵwx̱wú7mesh (Squamish), and səl̓ilwətaɁɬ (Tsleil-Waututh) nations (colonially known as Vancouver, Canada). CATA seeks to work in solidarity with Indigenous peoples’ fight for autonomy and self-determination. This piece was written by a member of CATA who is a trans woman of colour currently engaged in the sex industry.

Originally conceived as a memorial and vigil for the victims of the Green River Killer in Seattle Washington, United States (US) in 2003, the International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers is held annually on December 17 by sex workers, their advocates, friends, families and allies. The day calls attention to hate crimes committed against sex workers worldwide, as well as the need to remove the social stigma and discrimination that have contributed to violence against sex workers. This year, 212 deaths of sex workers were documented, the vast majority of whom are women of colour. Many of these same women were memorialized during this year’s Trans Day of Remembrance.

Here in Canada, colonial laws criminalize sex workers, as well as their clients, their drivers, and the owners and operators of the places where they work. This reality forces the industry underground and weakens the ability to combat strong-arming, exploitative labor conditions, and violence against sex workers. As a result, criminalization empowers and fosters violence against women, men and nonbinary sex workers.  Violence that has become a normalized part of the work environment for sex workers include sexual violence, psychological violence, and economic violence (where theft and robbery become common occurrences). The results are that the right to refuse unsafe work does not apply to sex workers. This is unacceptable.

red umbrella

On this 16th International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers, CATA recognizes that:

  • When sex work is criminalized, sex workers are vulnerable to violence and obliged to “choose between their liberty interest and their right to security of the person” (Justice Himel in Bedford v Canada).
  • It is unacceptable that the Canadian Criminal Code (CCC s. 210) makes it illegal for sex workers to work in their own homes or in establishments – the very places where they are safest because they can have security measures in place (i.e. cameras, neighbours, known exits).
  • It is unacceptable that the Canadian Criminal Code (CCC s. 210, 211, 212) makes it illegal for individuals to provide support or security to sex workers by criminalizing drivers, agency personnel and establishment owners.
  • It is unacceptable that street-based sex workers are often charged under Canadian Criminal Code s. 213.
  • It is unacceptable that the Immigration and Refugee Protection Regulations (IRPR s. 185) authorizes an immigration officer to impose, vary or cancel conditions on work permits if a migrant sex worker is found to be engaged in the sex industry.
  • It is unacceptable that in order to avoid coming to the attention of the police, street-based sex workers are forced to forgo safety strategies such as working in pairs, soliciting in well-lit populated areas, or taking the time to carefully assess a client prior to entering a vehicle.
  • It is unacceptable that sex workers are over-policed but under-protected. As a result, they are hyper-exposed to violence and predators who target them with impunity.
  • It is unacceptable that community members who seek to create a more socially just society leave out and ignore sex workers and sex worker issues from movements.
  • It is unacceptable that justice does not exist for sex workers. Police repression against the sex industry does not address this issue and creates conditions that encourage trafficking.

On this 16th International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers, CATA calls for awareness that violence against sex workers is a global catastrophe:

  • It is unacceptable that Joel Rifkin confessed to killing 17 sex workers in the New York area between 1989 and 1993, without there having been a single missing persons report filed for any of the women during that time.
  • It is unacceptable that the remains of numerous missing sex workers were found on Robert Pickton’s family farm right here in Metro Vancouver. CATA recognizes that he has probably killed dozens of sex workers though he was only convicted of 6 murders in December 2007.
  • It is unacceptable that Peter Sutcliffe (aka the Yorkshire Ripper) murdered 13 women, from 1975-1980 in Northern England.
  • It is unacceptable that Robert Hansen murdered between 15 to 21 sex workers near Anchorage, Alaska between 1980 and 1983.
  • It is unacceptable that Gary Ridgway (aka the Green River Killer) confessed to killing 48 sex workers from 1982 to 1998 in the US.
  • It is unacceptable that in one month, in December 2006, Steve Wright murdered five sex workers in Ipswich, England.

On this 16th International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers, CATA works to remind us all that stigma increases violence:

  • In Toronto, 100% of migrant sex workers interviewed by the Migrant Sex Workers Project said they would not call the poliec if they experienced violence.
  • In Vancouver, only 25% of youth who experienced sexual assault as suvival sex workers reported the violence to the police. Of these youth who had been victimized, 18% did not receive help from anyone, including boyfriends, other sex workers, friends, or parents.

On this 16th International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers, CATA calls for action to end violence against sex workers:

  • People in leadership positions must be trained to be culturally competent towards sex worker communities and sex worker issues.
  • People working with and in service of sex workers can help organize bad date lists, support sex workers in creating programs that meet their needs, and work to create and open leadership positions for people with sex work experience.
  • Community advocates must push back on the conflation of sex work with human trafficking and support policies that increase sex worker access to safety, human rights, justice, and liberation.
  • Communities must support and help create space for peer-led, sex worker-led efforts for safer workplace conditions and meaningful advocacy.
  • Institutions, organizations, and community groups must develop sex work policy to create safer and empowering spaces for sex workers in their own organizations and in the community at large.
  • Institutions, organizations, community groups, and individuals who seek to work in solidarity with sex workers and multiply-marginalized communities must be more vigorous with identifying and exposing sex worker antagonism, anti-sex work sentiment, and SWERFism (sex worker exclusionary radical feminism) in their work.

On this 16th International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers, CATA seeks to remind the public that sex workers are resilient and robust, and come from incredibly diverse backgrounds. They collaborate and stand up for each other to increase safety and resist violence. They organize bad date reports and participate in information sharing regarding dangerous situations, organizations, police, and people. They are safety buddies for each other and come together to support other sex workers who have experienced violence. They do their own research and draw from their immense lived experiences. Sex workers don’t need rescue. Sex workers deserve rights and they need solidarity in their fight for justice and liberation. Anything less is unacceptable.

For more information:

Trans and Sex Worker Communities & The Vancouver Public Library: A Reflection by CATA

This letter was submitted at the Vancouver Public Library board meeting on April 24th, 2019.

Vancouver Public Library
350 West Georgia Street
Vancouver, BC V6B 6B1
unceded Coast Salish territory

To Christina De Castell, Head Librarian;
Councillor Christine Boyle, Board Member;
Jennifer Chan, Vice Chair, Library Board;
Kurt Heinrich, Board Member;
Zahra Hussein, Board Member;
Rebecca Jules, Board Member;
Kevin Lowe, Board Member;
Stuart MacKinnon, Board Member;
Raji Mangat, Vice Chair, Library Board;
Barb Parrott, Board Member;
Harlan Pruden, Board Member;
John Schaub, Chair, Library Board; and
Rhonda Sherwood, Board Member:

April 24, 2019

We are writing to you as residents of Vancouver, patrons of the Vancouver Public Library (VPL), and members of Coalition Against Trans Antagonism (CATA) regarding the VPL Meeting Rooms & Facilities Rental Policy and the talk hosted at the VPL-Central Branch on January 10th, 2019 entitled, “Gender Identity Ideology & Women’s Rights: A Talk and Q&A”.

CATA is a grassroots community group whose mission is to identify and challenge oppressive ideologies and practices within (and not limited to) governmental bodies, non-profits, academia, unions, community organizations, and individuals, to reduce and eliminate the harms experienced by trans and sex worker communities. We are made up of members who are trans, Two Spirit, intersex, nonbinary, and gender nonconforming, some of whom have experience with sex work. We envision a world where there is safety, support, acceptance, dignity, autonomy and self-determination for trans people, especially trans women, and sex workers.

On January 10th, CATA organized a rally and shared a press release speaking out against the talk and the VPL’s rental policy, and now we are reaching out to the VPL in hopes of working together in finding solutions to ensure that further harms towards trans and sex worker communities no longer occur.

CATA has witnessed the VPL Head Librarian, board, and employees minimize the safety and concerns of trans and sex worker communities by allowing Meghan Murphy to rent at the VPL despite the very strong and well-articulated community opposition. Murphy is widely known and understood as a TERF (trans exclusionary radical feminist) and SWERF (sex worker exclusionary radical feminist) who promotes hate speech and rhetoric that targets trans women, trans people as a whole, and sex workers. Framing this issue as a difference of opinion demonstrates a lack of understanding and relationship to local trans and sex worker communities, many of whom rely on the VPL as a safer space and a site of community connection and resources. We expect the VPL to believe people who have experienced violence, marginalization and oppression, and respond to these instances with the seriousness it requires and deserves.

The VPL Head Librarian, board, and staff are in need of deeper education about current and relevant trans and sex worker issues led by trans people and sex workers local to Vancouver. We have consolidated a list of requests based on community discussions CATA has hosted over the past 6 months at our Trans Community Town Halls, as well as our own collective expertise rooted in our lived experiences.

CATA requests the VPL to:

  1. Release a public apology to trans and sex worker communities, acknowledging the harms caused by the VPL hosting an event by Meghan Murphy, an internationally-known racist, anti-trans, anti-sex worker fascist, whose oppressive ideas are well documented.
    • We also ask that in this apology, the VPL’s statement from November 2018 is re-posted onto the VPL website and that the VPL takes responsibility for its role in enabling anti-trans, anti-sex worker bigots such as Meghan Murphy in having a platform.
  2. Develop a robust space rental policy that prevents anti-trans, anti-sex worker ideology—and by extension, any and all fascist ideologies—from having access to a platform to spread exclusionary ideas, including ideas that question the validity of people’s identities and existence.
    • Provide opportunities for trans and sex worker communities to review the VPL board’s progress and offer input.
  3. Commit to, at the very minimum, annual trans and sex worker sensitivity training for all VPL staff and board members led specifically by trans women and sex workers (and preferably trans women and sex workers of colour).
  4. Co-host trans and sex worker community dialogues with CATA for VPL staff and board members to hear directly from trans and sex worker community members in the spirit of transformative justice, especially because CATA is not representative of the entire community.
  5. Provide free rental space for trans and sex worker groups and individuals as a form of reparations and as a commitment to ongoing relationship-building with trans and sex worker communities.
    • Vancouver is sorely lacking in free and accessible spaces to gather, organize, and build community; the VPL has an opportunity to fill this gap.

Action #1:

Release a public apology to trans and sex worker communities, acknowledging the harms caused by the VPL hosting an event by Meghan Murphy, an internationally-known racist, anti-trans, anti-sex worker fascist, whose oppressive ideas are well documented.

  • We also ask that in this apology, the VPL’s statement from November 2018 is re-posted onto the VPL website and that the VPL takes responsibility for its role in enabling anti-trans, anti-sex worker bigots such as Meghan Murphy in having a platform.

We cannot solve a problem without first acknowledging that it exists. Many trans, sex working, and queer individuals, groups, and organizations (and cis hetero allies) have spoken up about their disappointment with the VPL’s actions through letter-writing and emails, in private meetings with VPL staff, by pulling their organization’s programming from the VPL, and at the final Open Book series event.

Sadly, the calls from the local community to cancel the event featuring Murphy were not met, and instead a public statement was released by the VPL claiming that while the VPL did not agree with the views of Murphy, the VPL is committed to free speech and intellectual freedom. As such, “[VPL] will not refuse to rent to an individual or organization simply because they are discussing controversial topics or views, even those we find offensive.” This statement is no longer accessible on the VPL website. For the sake of transparency and historical record, we ask that the VPL re-post this statement, as well as address this statement in the apology.

In order to more fully comprehend the anger, outrage, and hurt expressed by trans, sex working, and queer communities, it is important to know the history of TERF/SWERF organizing in Vancouver, including Murphy’s history here in Vancouver and beyond. In the mid to late ‘80s, the feminist movement in Vancouver began to diverge, with a small contingent of cisgender women coming together behind the banner of “Radical Feminism.” This contingent took a conservative and staunch gender essentialist anti-male position, thereby rejecting the validity and existence of trans women, who they see as men, and rejecting the reality of consensual, by-choice sex work, which they believe cannot exist and is inherently exploitative. The remaining feminist movement embraced intersectionality and decolonization as important, foundational principles integral to fighting oppression and injustice. Despite TERFs and SWERFs not being representative of contemporary feminist ideas, they continue to organize in Vancouver, with the most notable organization being Vancouver Rape Relief (who has also previously rented with the VPL). Other examples include the TERF/SWERF contingent who show up annually at the Vancouver Dyke March with anti-trans signage, the Vancouver Women’s Library which only recently closed down due to lack of funding, and, of course, Meghan Murphy’s Feminist Current.

At her events, Murphy creates hostile and oppressive environments for trans people, and incites hate speech from her supporters. For example, when a trans person spoke at the January 10th event during the Q&A, a Murphy supporter and attendee shouted, “Pedophile!” at the trans person, and Murphy did not address or correct this comment. While Murphy may not necessarily say these things out loud, in public, these beliefs and statements are inferred through her speeches and in her writings.

There are endless examples, online and offline, of the ways in which Murphy has perpetuated harm towards trans women, trans people as a whole, and sex workers. Aside from spreading misinformation, Murphy has posted online the personal information of trans people and sex workers without their consent, including photos, deadnames (birth names), place of work, etc. (which led to her being banned from Twitter). She has also instigated online swarms, where her followers hone in on individuals and harass them. Some people have taken their own lives as a response. All of these examples indicate that the extent of these harms would not exist without Murphy having access to platforms to normalize these ideas and behaviours in the first place. Also, the examples give further context to understand why we and other people have asked, and continue to ask, for Murphy (and anyone who shares her hatred of trans people and sex workers) to not be provided a platform, especially by a public institution.
As such, the VPL needs to acknowledge and apologize for its role in enabling anti-trans, anti-sex worker bigots such as Murphy in having a platform, enabling the resurgence of TERF/SWERF activity in Vancouver, and undoing the decades-long work of community organizers and activists burdened with speaking out and pushing back against TERFs and SWERFs.

Action #2:

Develop a robust space rental policy that prevents anti-trans, anti-sex worker ideology—and by extension, any and all fascist ideologies—from having access to a platform to spread exclusionary ideas, including ideas that question the validity of people’s identities and existence.

  • Provide opportunities for trans and sex worker communities to review the VPL board’s progress and offer input.

CATA recognizes the importance for public institutions to uphold intellectual freedom. At the same time, the freedom to express oneself does not mean entitlement and access to a platform, and shouldn’t come at the cost of marginalized communities. An individual’s gender identity and expression and whether someone engages in consensual sex work should not be minimized and treated as academic and intellectual fodder.

The VPL’s decision to allow a platform for an anti-trans and anti-sex worker speaker to espouse their hateful ideas is a direct violation of the principles put forth in the VPL’s mission, vision, values and statement on diversity and inclusion. It is the responsibility of the VPL to listen to and work with marginalized communities, and to ensure that such under-represented groups are outreached to and engaged with in regards to VPL services, resources, and facilities.

Hate speech is not only limited to what is recognized legally through legislation and court decisions – it should be defined by the people who are affected by the rhetoric. It goes beyond overt, obvious bigoted language, as hate speech also includes narratives, philosophies, or ideas that question the validity of the existence of marginalized people – in this case, trans and sex worker communities.

All the above have negative, material effects on individuals and groups. These beliefs and attitudes have a profound impact on trans people in relation to securing stable employment, finding permanent housing, accessing health services, pursuing education, and living day-to-day life with a sense of security and dignity. Trans and sex worker individuals are also negatively impacted in their personal relationships, including whether or not they are accepted and supported by their families, partners, friends, neighbours, and coworkers. Some people have taken their lives because of these attitudes, and many people, especially trans women and trans feminine people, are murdered.

The decision to allow Murphy to speak contravenes Vancouver City Council’s diversity and inclusion policies, statements, and Council decisions regarding trans and gender-variant inclusion within the City of Vancouver and its public facilities and services, including the Vancouver Public Library. The VPL has pushed the narrative that any group is able to rent a space because it is viewed as a “private event”. While contractually this may be true, the VPL is still funded by the City of Vancouver. Therefore, the VPL has a responsibility to have policies in place which ensure that discrimination, oppression, and violence are not promoted and/or does not occur as a result of the use of resources provided by the VPL.

Action #3:

Commit to, at the very minimum, annual trans and sex worker sensitivity training for all VPL staff and board members led specifically by trans women and sex workers (and preferably trans women and sex workers of colour).

A significant reason why the VPL is in the position it is in today, is because of the lack of in-depth education regarding trans and sex worker issues, and to a larger extent a lack of understanding anti-oppression theory and principles. Sensitivity training should be consistent and frequent, and led by those most affected by the issues of trans antagonism and sex worker antagonism.

Participating in workshops and trainings about these subjects will provide the VPL opportunities to develop a better understanding about the marginalized communities who use the VPL and the oppressions they face daily. This will also build the VPL’s overall capacity to better engage trans and sex worker patrons and respond more appropriately when conflict and issues arise.

Action #4:

Co-host trans and sex worker community dialogues with CATA for VPL staff and board members to hear directly from trans and sex worker community members in the spirit of transformative justice, especially because CATA is not representative of the entire community.

This is a chance for the VPL to take accountability and to directly engage with community members that have been harmed by the platforming of an anti-trans, anti-sex worker bigot. It is important for the VPL to bear witness to these harms and an opportunity for the VPL to practice what they preach regarding trans inclusion. It is essential for the VPL to move towards a place where trans and sex worker patrons genuinely feel accepted.

We feel these community dialogues are important for moving forward and that they are in-line with the VPL’s stated mission and vision of a free place for everyone to discover, create, and share ideas and information to make an informed, engaged, and connected city. We want to be clear that CATA’s intentions are to engage in transformative justice and host a meaningful dialogue that is not about placing blame on specific individuals. We are interested in looking at the structures and policies that allowed this to be possible, and to figure out solutions collaboratively to transform these harms. We hope that one day the community can look back and point to this time as the pivotal moment where the VPL shifted from being an enabler of oppression to an institution working in allyship with marginalized communities.

Action #5:

Provide free rental space for trans and sex worker groups and individuals as a form of reparations and as a commitment to ongoing relationship-building with trans and sex worker communities.

Due to gentrification, the City of Vancouver is sorely lacking in free and accessible spaces to gather, organize, and build community. The VPL is uniquely positioned as a public institution with the opportunity to fill this gap. While the VPL hosts programming for trans people, it would be important for community-led initiatives to also take place at the library so they can maintain their own autonomy.

This is a tangible act of repairing harm that can be undertaken by the VPL to rebuild trust and to demonstrate a desire to commit to the VPL’s stated values of diversity, access for all, patron-centred services, community-led planning, community partnerships, respectful spaces and communication, and effective use of resources. It is also a way to signal to the community that the VPL aims to be a safer space for trans and sex worker individuals and communities, and to a greater extent, marginalized communities overall.


CATA’s members have our own personal memories of VPL as a site of inclusion and as a starting point for community – reading books, accessing the Internet, building skills, learning English, and accessing a variety of resources. The VPL has also acted as a form of sanctuary, for those of us who were homeless or did not have safe homes to live in. Libraries should be as accessible as possible to continue being a recognizable, relevant, and important institution in our communities.

As trans people who have come together to address issues faced by trans and sex worker communities local to the region, we feel it is an unfortunate reality that we must dedicate our time to protesting events like January 10th. We would rather dedicate our energy and resources towards trans and sex worker community-building. We don’t want the harms of the January 10th event to go unaddressed, nor do we want this to be the defining moment of the relationship between the VPL and trans and sex worker communities. Our hope is to move forward once the VPL apologizes and implements the requests made above.

We encourage board members to deliberate over this letter, as well as undertake your own research regarding these issues. Please do keep in touch with us as we seek to keep this conversation going and work toward solutions.

With fierceness and sincerity,

Coalition Against Trans Antagonism

How Vancouver Rape Relief is at Odds with Indigenous Self-Determination

Winona Laduke featured as a speaker for Vancouver Rape Relief's event for International Women's Day

Winona Laduke is a keynote speaker for Vancouver Rape Relief’s 2019 International Women’s Day event, alongside Indigenous women local to the region.

March 8, 2019

My name is Tami Starlight. I am Cree/Nehiyawak and Norwegian from Peguis Nation (Treaty 1 territory), in what is colonially known as Manitoba, Canada. I am Two Spirit, trans, queer, low-income, disabled and currently residing on unceded Coast Salish territory (Musqueam, Squamish & Tsleil-Waututh nations), in what is colonially known as Vancouver, Canada.

I am writing as a long-time community organizer in this region (almost 20 years) (anti-poverty, anti-drug war, and anti-homelessness organizing in the Downtown Eastside1 2 3, environmental/renewable energy work4, alternative media5, trans community organizing6, and anti-oppression work7, to name a few), and as someone who has lived experience with homelessness, addiction8, incarceration, and sex work. I am also a member and co-founder of Coalition Against Trans Antagonism (CATA), whom I am speaking on behalf of.

I recently learned that six Indigenous cis women have been invited as speakers for an event hosted by Vancouver Rape Relief (VRR). I feel it is my responsibility to inform the speakers and the wider community of the history of this organization and the harms that continue to be perpetrated by its leadership over the past 30 years in our community.

VRR sees itself as a rape crisis centre for women. However, those who have lived long enough in this city and who have organized around feminism and violence against women know that VRR has proven themselves to operate using exclusionary and oppressive ideology. They will not provide services to trans women, nor will they accept trans women as volunteers9 10. They have turned away women seeking to access their resources because the women are drug users, and have been patronizing and unsupportive if survivors/victims who attempt to access their resources are sex workers. If lesbian or queer women are assaulted by other women and seek VRR’s services, they are turned away. Many women who have been turned away and who are a combination of the above identities are also Indigenous women. (Much of the above information, unfortunately, does not have media sources, as this information is only known through the lived experience of women who have attempted to access VRR’s services or who have formerly volunteered for VRR and passed it on through community whisper networks.)

VRR and its leadership see themselves as “radical feminists” and firmly and openly believe that trans women are men. They also conflate consensual, by-choice sex work with sex trafficking. Most community organizers and organizations in Vancouver (including, but not limited to, Women Against Violence Against Women (WAVAW)11, PACE Society, West Coast LEAF12, BC Federation of Labour (BCFED)13 14, BC Teachers’ Federation (BCTF), and others15) recognize them as TERFs and SWERFs (trans exclusionary radical feminists and sex worker exclusionary radical feminists16) and, thankfully, refuse to work with VRR, fund them, support them or refer survivors/victims to them. The majority of VRR’s volunteers and supporters are people from the mainstream – those who are new to Vancouver, those who are new to feminism, or those who already align with their ideology.

VRR’s leadership comprises of women who are cisgender, mostly heterosexual, white settlers. They tokenize the few cisgender women of colour (including Black and Indigenous) who share their views to present themselves as having broad support. One of their key tactics involves convening a group of people who align on a specific topic together, and then frame these folks as supporters of VRR’s overall ideology (anti-trans and anti-sex worker). Sadly, one Indigenous woman in particular has been used by them to discredit the existence of Two Spirit, trans, and queer Indigenous people, including recently.17

This past January, a local TERF/SWERF named Meghan Murphy hosted an event in Vancouver18 19 where the Executive Director of VRR, Lee Lakeman, was a guest speaker20. Murphy runs an online hate-rag, FeministCurrent. It is a platform for her hatred and bigotry toward trans people — especially trans women — sex workers, and feminists of colour21. She travels (mostly to the UK, USA, and Australia) and makes money by speaking at various events where she spews misinformation, stokes fear and confusion, and incites violence. She is considered a significant factor for the current uprising of anti-trans bigotry in the UK22, where she is highly regarded. Murphy is also connected to Deep Green Resistance (DGR)23, an eco-fascist group whose leaders, Derrick Jensen and Lierre Keith, have been denounced by student, eco, and Indigenous groups23 for DGR’s trans antagonist, racist, and overall oppressive ideologies25.

VRR and Murphy have a long history together and have played both sides of so-called Canada’s colonial criminal legal system. When legislation was being passed to to prohibit discrimination based on gender identity and gender expression (Bill C-16), both Murphy and representatives of VRR flew to Ottawa, sitting alongside a Christian fundamentalist, in unsuccessful attempts to block and speak against the bill.26 27 VRR also used their resources to push for Bill C-36, legislation which reintroduces the same harms as the previous laws while making it more difficult for sex workers to work in safer indoor locations.28

The talk held in January was denounced by various LGBTQ organizations, sex worker advocates, community groups and individuals19. Letters were written to the Vancouver Public Library to cancel the space rental with Murphy, and a protest rally took place. VPL did not cancel the event on the grounds of free speech, and at the same time publicly stated that they do not agree with Murphy’s discriminatory views19. Despite public outcry, VRR continues to strongly associate themselves with Murphy.

There are various initiatives currently being undertaken by individuals, community groups, and non-profit organizations to challenge the oppression and harm that TERFs & SWERFs like VRR are responsible for in our communities. Part of this includes redirecting social capital and financial support from VRR to rape crisis centres such as WAVAW, who intentionally seek to do their work rooted in an inclusive, anti-oppressive, intersectional, and decolonial framework. We believe that no survivor of sexual assault should ever have to experience further trauma, violence and oppression while seeking resources and services.

It is important to emphasize that, aside from pushing for harmful policies in all levels of government, TERF/SWERF ideology poses real, direct, material harms to trans people, especially trans women, and sex workers. The promotion and platforming of this ideology validates the misinformed fears about trans people in society, presenting us as perverted, mentally ill, and/or violent – reaching our friends, family, coworkers, and neighbours. It also creates unsafe, hostile, and violent conditions for trans people and sex workers to exist in.

Trans women, in Vancouver and also abroad, have been doxxed – their deadnames (former names), photos, email addresses, home addresses, phone numbers, and workplaces have been posted online without their permission. These women are constantly harassed and receive death threats. I, myself, have a photo online posted by a TERF/SWERF from Victoria, B.C. exclaiming that I am a “white man pretending to be an Indigenous woman”.29 Some women have even ended their own lives because of this.

Two-Spirit people have always been here. We were called many things. It is time we reclaim our identities on our own terms.

“Top right is We’wha who was a Lhamana two-spirit of the Zuni nation. The Zuni people once had four traditional gender roles which include lhamana and katotse. They also have a Kachina or Zuni spirit named Ko’lhamana, a divine androgynous spirit who is said to appear when the people and the land are in desperate need of help. We’wha herself was a dedicated caregiver, craftsmaker, and a cultural ambassador of the Zuni people and went to DC to meet with President Grover.


Bottom left is presumably Osh-Tisch with her wife in the Apsáalooke (Crow) nation. The Crow’s third gender or Two-Spirit people are traditionally known in their language as Boté or Badé. Osh-Tisch was a master craftsmaker just like We’wha, and she was also a leader. She was one of the last of the Crow nation’s Boté people in antiquity just after her people were forced into the reservation. The Boté people, including Osh-Tisch, were brutally enslaved by Briskow from the Bureau of Indian Affairs. Also the Baptist missionary was especially cruel to her Boté community, and they did everything they could to wipe out the cultural memory of Boté two-spirits in the Crow nation after Osh-Tisch’s death in 1929.” – Julius Areola


It is no accident that so-called feminists who are entrenched in anti-trans, anti-sex worker bigotry network with and organize alongside white supremacists and anti-LGBTQ groups30. Many Indigenous people, Black people, and people of colour have made the connections between trans antagonism and white supremacy, and how both are rooted in colonialism31. It is ironic, then, for groups like VRR to present themselves as allies to Indigenous peoples while simultaneously ignoring Two Spirit voices and endorsing the harmful narrative of us not existing or being real, despite experience and evidence pointing to otherwise32 33 34 35.

People who promote hatred, bigotry, and violence deserve no platform, space or credibility in our movements for social justice and must be held accountable, especially those who claim to be in solidarity with Indigenous peoples and our struggles for self-determination and autonomy. Two Spirit, trans, queer Indigenous people exist. Some of us are sex workers. Some of us are homeless, poor, and low-income. Some of us are incarcerated or have been. Some of us are drug users. Many of us are still uncovering and reclaiming identities lost through colonization. All of us deserve to be a part of the circle and to be protected from violence and harm.

I am asking for those invited to speak at this event to:

  1. Denounce Vancouver Rape Relief and their anti-trans, anti-sex worker ideology;
  2. Affirm the diversity of gender identity and gender expression of people around the world, especially those who are reclaiming identities and roles lost, erased, and vilified due to colonization;
  3. Redirect the funds received from this speaking engagement to trans and sex worker communities (I suggest PACE Society, who hire and also work directly with Indigenous Two Spirit, trans women who are also sex workers36).

My motivation for this communication is to, at the very least, provide information for greater awareness and so that those invited to participate in VRR’s events, now and in the future, can make a fuller, more informed decision. There are many others who can give their own perspectives with regard to this organization and the greater impacts of TERF/SWERF ideology here in so-called Vancouver. I hope we can have these conversations as a community and continue to expose the harms that VRR is responsible for.

With respect, rage, and solidarity.

All our relations,
Tami Starlight


1 Future of Downtown Eastside: Inside the Planning Process

* please note the link is a snapshot from August 10, 2016. the live version can be found here:

2 Pidgin protesters target new Vancouver restaurant

3 Tara Chee

4 Greenpeace (Canada) occupies Enbridge office in downtown Vancouver

5 The Sinixt Nation: “We are still here”

6 B.C. cities mark international Trans Day of Remembrance — some for the first time

7 decolonization | The Anti-Oppression Network

8 Spirit Matters and HIV

9 Fighting to do a woman’s work

10 Rape Relief wins

11 How do we refuse complicity with transphobia when it’s conflated with feminism?

12 Ending Sexual Assault

13 VRR is open with it’s anti-trans practices and philosophy. @BCTF stands with @BCFED and other affiliates in no longer supporting VRR. Here is our statement on trans-inclusion:…

14 Supporting trans-inclusive organizations

15 No Unity with Transmisogynists or Sex Work Prohibitionists: AAD’s position on Vancouver Rape Relief

16 The TERFs

17 Fay Blaney on gender identity and Indigenous cultures at the Vancouver Public Library

* please note that I am intentionally linking to a snapshot/web archive of FeministCurrent. If you feel the need to look at the live version, please use this link

18 Meghan Murphy speaks to sold-out crowd in Vancouver Public Library meeting room

19 Feminist speaker deemed ‘anti-trans’ by critics speaks at Vancouver Public Library

20 Gender Identity Ideology & Women’s Rights: A talk & Q&A

21 We demand that end your association with Meghan Murphy as editor and columnist.

22 How British Feminism Became Anti-Trans

23 People & Groups Archives: Journalists » Meghan Murphy

* please note that the web archive snapshot is from 2016 and there has since been continued writing from Murphy on DGR’s website. If you feel the need to visit the live version please use:

24 Student, Eco and Indigenous Groups Oppose Transphobia at Conference

25 Deep Green Transphobia

26 Legal and Constitutional Affairs – May 10, 2017

27 When Toxic Radical “Feminism” and (Christian) Fundamentalism Converge

28 Bill C-36 hearings told not to conflate prostitution and trafficking

29 Gender Is War

* please note that the web archive snapshot is from February 2019. If you feel the need to visit the site, please use this link:

30 Anti-Trans Feminists Appear at Panel of Right-Wing Heritage Foundation

31 Transphobia is a White Supremacist Legacy of Colonialism

32 Language, culture, and Two-Spirit identity.

33 Reclaiming Spaces Between: Coast Salish Two Spirit Identities and Experiences


35 Letter from the Zapatista Women to Women in Struggle Around the World

36 ‘I’m grateful and happy’

Update: CATA’s Demands Have Yet to Be Met

Vancouver and District Labour Council, CUPE BC and Chinatown Action Group continue to fail trans women and sex workers

(to view this as a note on facebook visit:

In the afternoon of May 1st, 2018, Organize BC informed CATA about the cancellation of the Evening Panel scheduled to take place this Friday, May 4th, 2018, and that this decision was made by VDLC that same morning.

At this point, neither VDLC nor CUPE BC have contacted CATA to communicate this, and have simply removed any information related to the panel from their promotion without any communication or transparency to the community. In fact, VDLC has not communicated with us at any point in time throughout the past month, and we have not heard a response from CUPE BC except our first contact with Nathan Allen on April 6th, 2018, when this issue was first brought to their attention via facebook.

CATA’s three demands have still not been met. We did not ask for the panel to be cancelled, and in fact the decision to do so has exacerbated the issue. This decision harms people on the panel who have important information to share that is not rooted in supremacist TERF/SWERF ideology and whose views would contribute to the forum. In our list of demands, we asked Organize BC, VLDC, and CUPE BC to remove Yuly Chan from the panel and as an organization, to address their harmful views and actions as a documented TERF/SWERF organizer, not to cancel the event altogether.

The cancellation of the panel also impacts our members and the communities we seek to support and represent — it plays into the false narrative that CATA has “ruined the event for everyone” or that we seek to silence any and all dialogues on labour issues. On the contrary, we aim to centre discussions on the future of labour rights within a framework that fiercely recognizes and vehemently protects the rights of trans women and sex workers. No respectful or healthy discussion, however, would or should take place with any TERF/SWERF individual who has actively organized against our rights, livelihoods, and dignity.

It is imperative to understand that the situation unfolding is a direct result of a lack of policy and policy implementation in regards to vetting and protections of marginalized people by VDLC, CUPE BC, and Organize BC for this event and in their organizational structure. This issue is systemic, and remains rampant in so-called social justice community organizing in our city and beyond.

We want to take this opportunity to clarify our viewpoints and address the misinformation currently being spread by TERF/SWERF apologists/enablers/sympathizers as well as TERFs/SWERFs themselves:

  • CATA is made up of more than 3 people
  • None of us are cis, hetero, abled, white men
  • More than half of our group are IPOC – Indigenous and people of colour
  • None of us are academics
  • Pointing out oppressive behaviour and ideology is not lateral violence, racism or oppression, regardless of the identities of the people exhibiting these behaviours or expressing these ideologies — marginalized people can be oppressive too, especially with regards to their positions of privilege
    • Lateral violence exists amongst individuals of shared marginalization; Yuly Chan is a cis Chinese woman — our members are not
    • Equating CATA’s actions to racism and sexism is a deflection from addressing the root issues being presented, which is cis supremacy and sex worker antagonism
      • It undermines the reality that members of our group who are people of colour are not East Asian, and therefore do not benefit from East Asian privilege as Indigenous or non-East Asian people
      • It also erases the trans identities of our group members, and promotes the notion that trans people seeking to hold a cis person accountable is coming from a place of power and privilege when it is actually the other way around
    • Behaviours and ideologies that have been demonstrated to lead to harm and violence towards marginalized groups must be named, addressed, and transformed if our communities are to truly move forward towards a more just society
  • Individuals, groups, and organizations who continue to insist on the innocence of Chan’s behaviours and beliefs on the sole basis of Chan being a Chinese cis woman ignore the realities that Chinese sex workers exist, Chinese trans women exist, Chinese trans people as a whole exist, and that all these folks also deserve to have their issues represented in larger conversations around housing precarity and sex economies.

It is a tragic strategy that anti-trans, anti-sex worker community members make this issue about themselves, while tokenizing working class Chinese residents, to defend their oppressive ideologies. In actuality, our demands pertain to the issues mentioned in our previous letter and which we continue to reiterate. Make no mistake, this is about anti-trans, anti-sex worker violence and oppression, and not solely about Yuly Chan, or their sensitivity to CATA exposing their history.

It is Chan who wrote and published their own tweets publicly and who actively aligned themself with groups such as Vancouver Rape Relief, FeministCurrent, and Asian Women Coalition Ending Prostitution; it is Chinatown Action Group who has yet to develop a political philosophy and practice that honour, serve and reflect everyone in the community, and that are not exclusively centered on cis women or cis people. In bringing forth this issue and by asking Chan to be removed from the panel, CATA has simply highlighted and made accessible Chan’s well-documented, easily searchable, and extensive TERF/SWERF organizing history.

We’re nothing short of shocked and angry that the organizational bodies involved with putting this conference together did not notice this. Based on the failure to respond to our several inquiries regarding the inclusion of Chan in the past weeks, we find them suspect and likely complicit in their own TERF/SWERF promotion. Thankfully, Organize BC has privately and publicly apologized and acknowledged their part in this issue. VDLC and CUPE BC, however, have minimized, covered up (by cancelling/deleting the Evening Panel information without any announcement) and remained silent about the issue, even though it was clear that the organizers saw the concerns raised online.

We are incredibly encouraged by those who have signed on to our letter, those who understand these issues, and those who are using their social agency to publicly support us and the communities we seek to work in solidarity with. We understand the nuance of fear, discrimination, intimidation and peer pressure, as well as the possibility of workplace reprisals, regarding people possibly wanting to sign this letter and who are unable to as a result. Thank you for expressing your support in private.

We call on supporters — those who seek to work in solidarity with trans women, trans people, and sex workers — to continue signing on to our letter until all three of our demands have been met. We are asking you to step up, if you have the agency to do so, and take a stand for trans women, trans people, and sex workers in our community (and beyond), who also deserve stable housing and safe working conditions, and who have been excluded from physical spaces in social justice organizing and liberation struggles for far too long.

We urge VDLC, CUPE BC, and Organize BC to revisit our demands and hold each other accountable to the community.

Coalition Against Trans Antagonism

The Future of the City We Want: Why Sex Work is a Labour Issue

Please see the update to our open letter here:

This open letter is written on the unceded territory of the Coast Salish peoples – specifically the sḵwx̱wú7mesh (Squamish), sel̓íl̓witulh (Tsleil-Waututh), and xʷməθkʷəy̓əm (Musqueam) nations, in what is colonially known as Vancouver, Canada.

A closed letter, sent April 25th, 2018, was authored and emailed privately to the groups addressed below by the Coalition Against Trans Antagonism (CATA), a group of individuals who are Two-Spirit, trans, nonbinary, queer, disabled, Indigenous, people of colour, settlers, white, low-income, working class, youth, sex work-experienced and/or a combination of these identities and more. As a result of a lack of response, we have decided to publish an open letter. This letter has been modified to accommodate organizations and individuals in support of our demands.

CATA’s mission is to educate individuals, groups, and society at large, particularly in Vancouver, about the necessity of prioritizing the wellbeing and self-determination of trans women and sex workers. CATA aims to center and support sex workers and trans women, as well as victims of human trafficking. We collectively seek to differentiate between human trafficking/slavery and by-choice sex economies.

To: Vancouver District Labour Council;
Canadian Union of Public Employees;
& Organize BC

We, the undersigned, have become aware of the Vancouver Crossroads Conference currently being organized and promoted by the above mentioned groups, and that Yuly Chan has been invited to speak at the Evening Panel scheduled for Friday, May 4th, 2018. This issue was first brought to the attention of the organizers on April 6th, 2018. Nathan Allen (CUPE) and Organize BC responded the same day to inquire about CATA’s concerns. Since then CATA has not heard back.

Chan is a well-documented Trans Exclusionary Radical Feminist (TERF) and Sex Worker Exclusionary Radical Feminist (SWERF), and is known in the community to promote this ideology. Chan is a member of Asian Women Coalition to End Prostitution, and has been recorded speaking on panels perpetuating stigma about sex work and conflating consensual, by-choice sex work with trafficking. Further documentation detailing Chan’s involvement with trans and sex worker antagonistic organizations can be found by following this link:

Chan has also made statements in her housing organizing work claiming that trans people are against feminism. These statements further perpetuate misogyny, in particular transmisogyny, as trans people, especially trans women, have been at the forefront of a more inclusive feminism and opposing cisheteropatriarchy. Discrimination that trans people face at every level of society, especially familial violence and employment discrimination, forces the most marginalized of us into criminalized survival economies, which includes sex work. Therefore, to be against sex work is to be trans antagonist and transmisogynist.

Trans women are women and sex work is real work – the denial, blatant disregard, and willful ignorance to either of these important realities is to be complicit in the violence that harms sex workers and trans women. Each year, the number of murdered trans people rises, with the majority of them being Black trans women and trans women of colour. More than half of all trans people killed worldwide each year are sex workers and/or do precarious work.

Sex work remains predominantly criminalized by the Canadian state. This legislation, paired with attempts by SWERFs (so-called “prostitution abolitionists”) to further criminalization and regress existing laws and protections, impedes the ability of sex workers to hold conversations around unionization and occupational health and safety. Groups such as the World Health Organization, UNAIDS, and the International Labour Organization recognize that sex worker rights are human rights and that sex work is a labour issue. We ask that Vancouver District Labour Council, Canadian Union of Public Employees and Organize BC also take a stand and recognize sex work as a human rights and a labour issue.

While trans people and sex workers would like to participate in discussions around issues such as the precarity of housing and employment the most marginalized of us face, we are stuck having to deal with the bigotry of those who attempt to negate our agency, self-determination and very existence. If individuals and groups who harbour these bigoted views continue to position themselves as the representatives of our collective liberation struggles, those most targeted by their hate will continue to be alienated from conversations and physical spaces.

As people who are affected by the oppression and violence that results from TERF/SWERF ideology, and as people who are working in solidarity with trans women, trans people as a whole, sex workers, and victims of human trafficking, we demand that the VDLC, CUPE, and Organize BC:

  1. Remove Yuly Chan from the Evening Panel at the Vancouver Crossroads Conference;
  2. Write an open letter to the community taking responsibility and apologizing specifically to trans women and sex workers with an actionable commitment to prevent this from happening again;
  3. Implement policy that prevents people who promote any form of oppressive, supremacist, and fascist ideology from being offered and/or provided a platform at any of VDLC, CUPE, and Organize BC’s future events;
    • Develop this policy with the guidance and approval of trans women and sex workers

Trans and sex workers lives are not trivial or negotiable. We demand that these points be acknowledged and rectified.

Coalition Against Trans Antagonism


If you or your organization/collective would like to add your name to this letter, please email againsttransantagonism[at]protonmail[dot]com.


  • Spartacus Books Collective
  • SWAN Vancouver Society
  • BC Coalition of Experiential Communities (BCCEC)
  • Genderfest Winnipeg
  • Queerview
  • The Anti-Oppression Network
  • viet* collective for community justice
  • Vancouver Trans Day of Remembrance Society
  • Sex Workers of Winnipeg Action Group (SWWAC)
  • Vancouver Status of Women
  • PACE Society
  • Simon Fraser Student Society (SFSS) Out on Campus Collective
  • SFSS Women’s Centre Collective
  • Canadian Autistics United-Vancouver Chapter


  • Audrey Wolfe, zinester and sex worker rights advocate
  • Lisa Kreut, union organizer and transgender rights advocate
  • Meenakshi Mannoe, Prison Justice Day committee
  • Sean Orr
  • Ian Moram
  • Srishti Roy
  • Meagan Bristowe, disability studies student, researcher in sex worker rights, and harm reduction activist
  • Claudyne Chevrier, member of Sex Workers of Winnipeg Action Coalition and PhD student
  • Sarah Sheridan, Prison Justice Day committee
  • Kai Rajala, Prison Justice Day committee
  • Abby Rolston, Prison Justice Day committee
  • Franki Harrogate, graduate student in counselling psychology
  • Jonny Mexico
  • Kathryn Rhodes
  • Jaz Papadopoulos
  • Minh Truong
  • Vivian Ly
  • Nathan Dawthorne, PhD candidate, Sociocultrual Anthropology, University of Western Ontario, Thesis: Intelligible variability: Narratives of Male Sex Work in London Ontario
  • Anlina Sheng, sex worker and member of Sex Workers of Winnipeg Action Coalition
  • Charlie Huntley
  • Mareike Brunelli, member of Sex Workers of Winnipeg Action Coalition
  • Andrea Thompson
  • Kerry Porth, former sex worker
  • Dávid Danos
  • Judith Nguyen
  • Jigme Datse Yli-Rasku
  • Sam McCulligh
  • Ysabeau Wills
  • Vanna Lodders
  • Simran Randhawa