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4 min

Tranny stroll returning to the Village?

Hamilton predicts triumphant homecoming

BACK IN THE DAY: Jamie Lee Hamilton worked as a sex-trade worker in the Village before the injunction drove the tranny stroll out of the West End in 1984. Now, she says, the stroll is coming home. Credit: Courtesy of Jamie Lee Hamilton

If Jamie Lee Hamilton gets her wish, Vancouver’s transgendered sex-trade workers will be making a triumphant return to their old haunt, the Davie Village.

In fact, the prominent transsexual and community advocate claims the homecoming has already begun.

“It’s started already,” says Hamilton, an on-again, off-again sex worker who says she, too, will be returning to the area. “But people haven’t noticed much, with the traffic calming in place.”

Hamilton says the move comes on the heels of a recent plan of action developed by Living in Community, a citywide project dealing with issues of the sex trade in Vancouver neighbourhoods. The plan was created in collaboration with government organizations, sex worker organizations, the Vancouver Police Department (VPD) and other groups.

The plan suggests, among other things, the establishment of “no-go zones”-areas such as schoolyards or parks where sex work would be forbidden. Hamilton says the plan will displace sex-trade workers from under the Downtown Eastside’s Hastings Viaduct, as there is a community centre “less than a block away” from the “tranny stroll” there that could be considered a no-go zone.

Hamilton is referring to the Ray-Cam Co-operative Centre at E Hastings St and Raymur Ave. The centre offers services including a preschool, daycare and youth room.

“In an unusual twist, this new displacement will actually work in our favour as we return to our traditional homeland of the now-called Davie Village,” says Hamilton, who claims the new no-go zones would not include the Davie area.

In the ’70s and early ’80s, Bute, Davie, Nicola, Pendrell and Comox Sts were home to the tranny stroll and “hustler row.” But in 1984, prostitutes were driven out of the community by Concerned Residents of the West End (CROWE), whose “Shaming the Johns” campaign prompted the provincial attorney general to seek an injunction from the BC Supreme Court restricting prostitution-related activities in the West End.

The injunction was rescinded a year later following the enactment of the so-called “communicating law” (Section 213 of the Criminal Code), which made all public communication about possible sex-trade transactions illegal, thereby reducing the visibility of street prostitution.

Sex-trade workers fled the West End to ply their trade elsewhere, including under the Hastings Viaduct, an area Hamilton describes as “horrible” and dangerous.

“We were thrown into a dark, deserted area with no resources and no support system in place. It’s totally industrial.”

Though Hamilton claims sex-trade workers are now about to be shuffled out of this area in turn, Det Const Brian Sanders, who works in the vice unit of the VPD, says police are not in favour of displacing prostitutes.

“We have no intention of moving anyone anywhere,” says Sanders, who sat on one of the Living in Community committees. “Our objective is to get people out of prostitution. We don’t go after workers.”

Sanders says the establishment of no-go zones can only be imposed by the courts, and only after a sex worker has been convicted of a prostitution-related offence in an area such as a schoolyard or park. Offenders would be prohibited from re-entering a given area as a condition of their release.

“Courts are reluctant to impose no-go zones,” Sanders says. “There’s no such thing as banning anyone, realistically.”

Still, Hamilton says both gay and trans sex-trade workers have already begun working in the West End again, albeit in a more discreet fashion.

“They’re just bypassing the radar. They’re primarily in internet cafes, but are spilling out onto the street.”

Several West Enders interviewed say they have seen no evidence of the sex-trade workers’ return to date, but the possibility has sparked mixed reactions.

Though Little Sister’s co-owner Jim Deva says he doubts the sex-trade workers will reestablish their strolls in the West End, he says he would welcome them back to the neighbourhood with open arms.

“I would love to see them back on Davie,” he says. “They are part of our community. They are our customers.

“The tranny stroll created a safe environment for trans sex-trade workers,” he continues, adding that the way police and government dealt with the workers in the early ’80s was “extremely offensive.”

“They did not consult the people at risk and at harm,” he says. “They cleaned up for Expo ’86 and now they’re cleaning up for 2010. It’s happening again.”

Velvet Steele, a trans woman and co-founder of West Enders Against Violence Everywhere, says Davie Village is an ideal venue for sex trade workers looking to return.

“Davie’s much safer, in terms of people looking out for one another,” she says. “The West End is less tolerant of violence.”

Hamilton concurs, adding that she believes the alleged move back to the West End would be positive, as attitudes have changed since sex-trade workers were pushed out of the neighbourhood more than two decades ago.

“We’ve come a long way since then. I don’t think any court in their right mind would displace people. It would really be an infringement on one’s protected Charter rights.

“This time, instead of facing hate, I’m certain our return will demonstrate an all-inclusive love.”

But Gordon Price, who as part of CROWE spearheaded the campaign to purge West End streets of prostitution in the ’80s, believes residents will again be up in arms if sex-trade workers return.

“Why should a residential neighbourhood be sacrificed?” asks Price, a gay former city councillor and now director of Simon Fraser University’s City Program. “[Prostitution] negatively affects the people who live there, and it would still be the question now.”

Price claims that before the injunction was slapped on the West End, the neighbourhood was not safe for residents.

“The threat of physical violence became more tangible,” he says. “If you were a woman walking in the streets, it was presumed by some that you were for sale.”

Price emphasizes that CROWE did not take issue with prostitution itself, but the challenges it posed for defining acceptable behaviour in the West End.

“Who gets to determine what is accepted behaviour in a community? The people who are there for their own advantages, they get to draw the line-and the line [included] living in a red light district,” says Price.

“All those questions will come bouncing back again,” he maintains. “The lines will have to be redrawn.”

The West End Residents Association (WERA) would rather advocate for the acceptance and protection of sex-trade workers than join another Shame the Johns campaign, says Brent Granby, the organization’s president.

Although members have not formally discussed sex-trade issues as a group, WERA did not support the displacement of sex-trade workers from the West End, Granby says.

“We were not involved with Shame the Johns. We are not supportive of that solution. With Shame the Johns, the displacement of community led to a disastrous effect.”

Granby says if sex-trade workers are indeed returning to Davie Village, WERA would like to see a solution that “embraces harm reduction but also empowers people in the industry.”

“We would want a community-based solution-not displace [sex-trade workers] to other neighbourhoods. We wouldn’t drive them out.”