Since going public about discrimination, the couple have been bombarded by transphobic abuse.
On June 15, Bill C-16, federal trans rights legislation, adding gender identity and gender expression to the Canadian Human Rights Act’s list of prohibited grounds of discrimination, passed in the Canadian Senate without a single amendment. It will get royal assent today.
Less than a week before that, a trans woman was denied access to Toronto’s Body Blitz Spa, a women-only spa that promoted itself as a trans- and queer-friendly space.
Violet King was excited to treat her wife to a massage at Body Blitz Spa for her birthday. She called three times throughout the month before making an appointment to ensure that the spa was trans positive. When King asked what trans positive means policy wise, she was told that if her wife’s ID says “female,” and if she presents as a woman, then she would be welcome. She made an appointment the morning of June 9.
But one hour before the appointment, the manager called to cancel the appointment citing a “no male genitalia” rule. King says at first the manager apologized. King asked if her wife were to wear clothing, would it be okay, and why they previously said they were a trans-inclusive facility. By the end of the call, King says the tone got serious: her wife, Jia Qing Wilson-Yang, was not welcome at Body Blitz. King says the couple was hurt and blown away. They had been repeatedly told that Wilson-Yang was welcome, and they knew of trans folks who have used the facilities.
King went to Twitter to share the experience: “tried to book an appointment for my wife @bodyblitzspa womens only spa was told their trans inclusion policy wont allow ‘male genitalia.’” Wilson-Yang also tweeted about the experience.
tried to book an appointment for my wife @bodyblitzspa womens only spa was told theyre trans inclusion policy wont allow "male genitalia"
— Violet.revenge (@gracietornado) June 9, 2017
A friend of King’s made a public Facebook post that quickly caught attention:
Facebook users quickly went to the Body Blitz Facebook page to address this issue and left negative ratings. Body Blitz initially posted a statement on their page; however, as of June 13 this statement has been erased, as well as their poor ratings—their page no longer has the ratings option.
When asked for comment, Body Blitz’s corporate affairs co-ordinator, Rachel Duffy, sent a pasted statement by email:
We support the LBGTQ community and recognize that this is a sensitive issue. However, because Body Blitz Spa is a single-sex facility with full-nudity, we are not like other facilities. We recognize that this is an important discussion for single-sex facilities to have and we will seek to find a satisfactory resolution.
In response to a request for clarification on the spa’s policy and any information around their timeline in discussing future policy Duffy says, “I have provided you with our statement, thank you.”
In an earlier media statement, Body Blitz officials said that the spa is “not like other businesses and [has] unique considerations.”
Lawyer Nicole Nussbaum says cases like these settlements are becoming more common, where parties come together to develop trans-inclusive policies. She points to two cases that reached a settlement, like the 2016 case of a hockey player in Oshawa who was refused entry to their team’s change room, as well as a case of a woman denied access to a public washroom at a Hamilton bus terminal, also in 2016. “Given that Body Blitz has indicated that it will be undertaking a review of its policy, I am hopeful that they will be able to identify an approach that is welcoming, respectful, and non-exclusionary,” says Nussbaum.
In 2014, the Ontario Human Rights Commission released their most recent version of their policy on preventing discrimination because of gender identity and gender expression. This followed the OHRC’s position released in 1999, which stated that transgender people are to be protected from discrimination and harassment on the ground of “sex” under Ontario human rights law.
In 2012, the province passed Toby’s Act, legislation, which added “gender identity” and “gender expression” to the Ontario Human Rights Code, making trans rights the law in Ontario.
The OHRC states that trans people are protected from discrimination and harassment because of gender identity when receiving goods, services, and using facilities. Essentially, businesses have a duty to accommodate.
The author of Toby’s Act, MPP Cheri DiNovo, released a statement in response to reports of discriminatory policies at Body Blitz: “Not providing service to trans women is not only transphobic, it is against the law. Trans women are women and trans rights are human rights.”
DiNovo says that the spa’s exclusionary policy is a clear-cut civil rights issue. “What Body Blitz is doing, as far as I’m concerned, is illegal.”
Body Blitz opened in 2005, six years after the OHRC first began forming policies on the rights and protections of transgender people.
OHRC acting senior communications advisor, Vanessa Tamburro, wrote in an email that “under the Human Rights Code, employers, housing and service providers have a legal duty to accommodate the needs of transgender people, unless it would cause undue hardship.”
Since King first went public about Body Blitz’s exclusionary policies, her and Wilson-Yang’s story have been shared through social media as well as news outlets. Both women have consequently been harassed online. King says she keeps a relatively low profile on social media and has been overwhelmed with hateful, transphobic comments, some of which are coming from other women.
“Experiencing online harassment has made me so deeply sad and concerned for our safety,” says King. “But I am also stubbornly proud of our queerness and I find great strength in our community, and especially our trans women and Two-Spirit friends. Other people thinking they are entitled to to tell us how to live by their rigid, colonial gender binaries are deeply mistaken. Trans women are women. My wife is beautiful and strong, and our lives are full of love.”
Among transphobic comments slinging slurs, like calling the women “freaks,” others take on a more interrogating nature, asking what Wilson-Yang would be wearing. Radical Feminist group, Girls Like Us, shared pictures of reproductive systems in response to King’s tweet, ridiculing her using the term wife. “There’s scary people out there,” King says, sharing examples of messages she receives, like pictures of testicles.
The couples’ family and friends have been supportive, but King is still feeling overwhelmed. “You can argue until you’re blue in the face that someone with a penis can be a woman, but being trans inclusive is the law.”
Radical feminists, or TERFs (Trans-Exclusionary Radical Feminists) do not recognize trans women as women. Unlike with intersectional feminism, TERFs believe in gender binaries and are transphobic in practice. Seeing women within the queer community targeting the couple really illustrates the persistent marginalization of trans folk.
Gay women have rights to enjoy a spa day without penises present. That’s why I choose an all female spa. Your rights do not supercede mine!!
— Jennifer Liam (@JenniferLiam5) June 13, 2017
The couple has not heard from Body Blitz since their appointment was cancelled. King says she is especially surprised by these exclusionary practices because the spa is owned by women entrepreneurs.