A London, Ontario, farmers’ market that evicted a local candle and incense retailer because she had a transsexual clerk minding her stall has become a flashpoint in the provincial struggle for trans human rights.
On Sept 10, Karen Clarke received a call from the owner of the Trail’s End Farmers’ Market informing her that her employee Dani Dominick would not be welcome back at the market. Ed Kikkert stated that the market was “a family place” and that he was confused about “men dressed up as women” and what gender washroom they would use.
Clarke says she chose not to bring her store, True 2 You, back to Trail’s End rather than use another employee at her booth there.
Clarke and Dominick are now filing separate human rights complaints against the Trail’s End Market to end what they call blatant discrimination.
The case has received widespread attention in London after mainstream outlets picked up the story over the weekend.
A petition on change.org has attracted more than 3,500 signatures, and a rally in support of Dominick has been planned for Saturday, Oct 1 at the farmers’ market. The NDP candidate for Elgin–Middlesex–London, Kathy Cornish, has vowed to attend the rally and speak out against trans discrimination.
“Whenever we’re putting up road-stops to jobs, that needs to play a part in the election,” Cornish says.
Cornish, a president of her local of the United Steelworkers union, says that she would support efforts to enshrine trans human rights in the law explicitly but also thinks effort must be put into educating people about discrimination and accommodation.
“We need to have people educated out there,” she says. “Everybody deserves the right to be entitled to a job.”
NDP MPP Cheri DiNovo (Parkdale–High Park) has attempted three times to introduce a private member’s bill called Toby’s Act that would make the inclusion of gender identity explicit in the Ontario Human Rights Code. The governing Liberals have rebuffed her efforts, saying that trans people are already protected under the Human Rights Code category of “sex.”
The Human Rights Commission website has a page that explains how trans people are protected by the existing laws.
Still, Michelle Boyce, who is representing Clarke and Dominick in their human rights complaints, says that making the protections explicit would help educate the public and prevent discrimination from happening in the first place.
“This is an absolute example of how [Toby’s Act] would be helpful to businesses and business owners,” she says. “If this business owner had actually seen explicit protections as enumerated ground, he might not have been so openly discriminative against these individuals.”
For Dominick, this is only the most egregious case of discrimination she’s faced since she began her hormone therapy in April. She says that she moved to London from Windsor to find a more trans-supportive community but that she continues to hear insults and gossip.
“I’ve experienced hate crimes, but I’ve never been involved in any [lobby] groups. I’m trying to slip under the radar,” she says. “I’m trying to work, save up money for my surgery.”
“Discrimination is going to be around no matter where you are, but it needs to be brought up. The government needs to be aware that this is a serious matter. They need to give us just as much rights as everybody else. It’s not as if my life wasn’t difficult enough,” she says.
The lost income is a major setback for Dominick’s efforts to save up for her surgery. She worries that she might not be approved for OHIP coverage of her sex-reassignment treatment.
The Ontario government relisted sex-reassignment surgery on OHIP in 2008 after it was delisted by the Harris PC government in 1998. But in order to qualify, patients must be approved by the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health in Toronto and live for two years in their new gender. Travel requirements for patients who live outside of Toronto can be financially straining.
If a patient is approved, OHIP will cover only genital surgery — it does not cover any of the other costs of transitioning, including chest reconstruction or hair removal.
“The provincial Liberals started the process of broadening trans health availability, but in the last four years, they haven’t progressed anywhere besides piling a bunch of money in one agency in Toronto, and that doesn’t help anyone outside of Toronto,” Boyce says.