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Women-only pharmacy reverses policy excluding trans women

Executive director leaves Lu's

LU'S CHANGES COURSE. Vancouver Women's Health Collective member April English says the policy change is unrelated to the departure of the group's executive director. Credit: www.womenshealthcollective.ca

North America’s first women-only pharmacy has quietly reversed its controversial “women born women” policy to allow transsexual women through its doors.

On Jan 16, the Vancouver Women’s Health Collective (VWHC), which operates Lu’s: A Pharmacy for Women at 29 E Hastings St, made the decision to drop its “women-born” policy to include women who “self-indentify,” says April English, a volunteer member of the collective.

The VWHC has yet to release an official statement announcing its decision, but English says one is forthcoming.

“Hopefully really soon — that’s our goal.”

English also confirms that Caryn Duncan, executive director of the VWCH, has left the organization. But despite rumours that Duncan resigned because she did not agree with the change in policy, English says she gave notice some months ago. 

“It was a positive, amicable departure. Caryn made a commitment to stay until the pharmacy was up and running, and she fulfilled that commitment.”

English says the activist groups that agitated for Lu’s to change its mandate are partially to thank for bringing its women-born policy into the spotlight.

“There was the opportunity to review it. They drew attention to the policy, which was a good thing.”

Brook, a transsexual woman who requested her last name be withheld because she is not out as trans, spearheaded the campaign to get Lu’s to reverse its policy. She says she was skeptical when she first heard the news that the policy had been changed.

“I was very distrustful of it, I didn’t quite believe it.”

But when she visited Lu’s late last month with members of the Femininjas, a local feminist activist group, they were welcomed with open arms.

“I was kind of worried that they might have a defeatist attitude. But they’re really, really nice. They said that they had been agitating for change internally for months; it was just getting stalled out by one or two people.”

Brook says the pharmacist who served a Femininja seeking to transfer her prescriptions to the pharmacy was sensitive in her dealings with the transsexual woman.

“Because her information is still under her old name, they asked, ‘Should I call you by this, or do you have a preferred name?’ which is excellent,” Brook says. “And they asked if she had a pronoun preference, which was good too.”

Lu’s: A Pharmacy for Women opened last July as a safe place for women to talk about their health and receive peer support. When Brook heard about Lu’s “women born women” mandate, she created a Facebook group, which in its first week garnered 550 members.

She soon joined forces with the Femininjas. Together they organized a protest for Jul 11, which saw about two dozen trans women and their supporters march to Lu’s, calling for “prescriptions for change.”

They also, in cooperation with a number of other feminist groups, organized a round table with Lu’s in late July and crafted a letter of concern, which was signed by several Downtown Eastside groups. Strathcona Mental Health Team nurses began refusing to send women to Lu’s.

When activists did not hear from Duncan, they began planning a second round table discussion. Then, in December, rumours began circulating that Lu’s was dropping its women-born policy, says Beth Marston, the trans activist who led the July protest.

“It turned out that the reason they were stalling was that they were restructuring themselves internally,” she says.

Marston says she felt “fantastic” when she heard that Lu’s had dropped its “women-born” policy and replaced it with a commitment to serve “self-indentified” women.

It’s a victory for trans activism, she says.

“Trans activism is probably where gay and lesbian activism was in the ’70s. It’s finally getting traction with certain organizations that it’s just not okay to discriminate against trans and intersexed women,” Marston says.