DISCRIMINATION HITS ME in the EYE
Recently, I applied for a 5 hour per week contract position with the Transgender Health Program at Vancouver Coastal Health. They were looking for someone to start their drop-in for transgender sex trade workers.
Originally, when the THP started over one year ago, I had been asked to sit on the advisory body. I accepted and pushed for the creation of the drop-in centre. The advisory group embraced my vision.
I was uncomfortable with the THP direction as advisory committee members were not being consulted by the program co-ordinator on policy direction. After a few meetings and countless meetings being canceled by program staff, I resigned.
More recently, I received an email requesting members to sit on a task group for the drop-in. Also there was to be a paid facilitator position. Former sex trade workers were encouraged to apply.
As some of you know, I founded in 1997, Grandma's House, a safe drop-in for sex trade workers. I served as the paid executive director for three years. At no time during my paid employment did I ever engage in any sex trade work. I knew it wouldn't be acceptable to do so. Plus economically, I had paid work to meet my survival needs.
Last week, I applied for the Drop-in facilitator position of the Transgender Health Program run by Vancouver Coastal Health. I sent in my resume. I thought I would be called in for an interview. I have over twenty years experience working in the non-profit sector along with sitting on numerous boards.
I also asked Vancouver Coastal Health if those on again off again sex workers could apply. I received no answer until today. .
In the response of today, the program co-ordinator said they were rejecting my resume because it was deemed to be inappropriate to hire me because of my involvement in the sex trade. I have since asked for further clarification.
As many of you know, there has been a recent trend since the Port Coquitlam murders to do something for sex trade workers. And I applaud government and policy makers for this.
But it appears that if you have at anytime been involved in the sex trade as I have, chances are your resume will be rejected as mine was. This even though I have NEVER had a criminal conviction for solicitation in my life. Nor do I have any criminal record.
My work history throughout my life has spoken volumes about my ability to create a better life for myself. Life has taught me to never give up even when the chips are down. I think I have done the best to also ensure that no one from my community is left behind because of social or economic status. I have tirelessly advocated for human rights advances.
However, at times when needed for my economic survival, I have engaged in sex work. This is not something I am ashamed about. And I refuse to apologize for it. My survival depended on it!
Just over a month ago, I was hired for a five hour a week position with the BC Coalition of Experiential Women funded by the Status of Women. I enjoy the support of a number of former and current sex workers, agency heads and women's groups. Politicians and Policy makers often ask me to share my expertise on the sex trade issue.
But now, I feel like I've just been slapped in the face by a major health organization, Vancouver Coastal Health, due to my involvement in the sex trade. This I find so troubling. What Vancouver Coastal Health is doing to me is no different than being victimized by a john. And who said, health professionals are always caring!
As a result this has brought back to me painful reminders of how cruel and discriminatory life can be. Moreover,
I have never used my transsexual or sex trade status as a reason of why at times I may not have succeeded in realizing my dreams. But these conditions have always driven me to keep forging on in trying to create something better.
But this time is different. While I see this action by Vancouver Coastal Health as an attack and somewhat of a setback, I'm not willing though to shrink from society as a result.
As I sit here typing, the pain envelopes me, however, I am reminded of your friendships and support over the years. This is what sustains me.
I must now ask my friends to support me and denounce the actions of Vancouver Coastal Health for their misguided, callous and discriminatory ways.
Jamie Lee Hamilton