The B.C. Human Rights Tribunal (BCHRT) is expected to take several months to rule on what may be the most contentious case involving transgender rights and questions of sex versus gender it has yet faced.
Jessica Yaniv testified at a BCHRT hearing on Friday, where, with so many attendees, people were left standing outside the hearing room.
Yaniv is claiming that she was discriminated against on the basis of her gender identity, alleging more than a dozen estheticians denied her waxing services because she is transgender.
LISTEN: Transgender Brazilian wax human rights complaint
Yaniv, who said she approached most of the businesses through Facebook Marketplace, claims several of the businesses implied they provided services for men and women but that she was denied bookings when it became clear she is trans.
Yaniv claims she has been denied facials, haircuts, pedicures, arm and leg waxing and other gender-affirming services. But the core of the case centres around intimate waxing, with the respondents claiming they are uncomfortable and unequipped to provide waxing services for Yaniv’s male genitalia.
“I’ve had to approach 16 salons because I was refused from every single one, and after I was refused from about five, that’s when I started saying: ‘I’m going to start recording and screenshotting these conversations’ so I can see why they would be saying I’m setting them up, but that’s completely not true,” Yaniv told Global News.
“None of these providers had any issue until I mentioned I’m transgender … it’s systemic.”
Yaniv’s opponents disagree.
Jay Cameron with the Alberta-based Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms and lawyer for five of the respondents said his clients — many who work alone out of their homes — have never offered male waxing services and should not be forced to do so.
“It’s really like taking a bicycle in for service to a grocery store. It’s not a service that my clients provide,” he said.
“There are cultural and religious components, there’s a lack of training, there’s a lack of comfort, there’s a lack of safety because they work out of their own homes with small children… a woman cannot be compelled to wax physiologically male genitals against her will and that it would be improper for the state to compel women to do that.”
Many of the people who turned out to the packed hearing echoed those concerns.
“If they go and support Yaniv then it is 10 steps backward,” said Jeanette, who only provided her first name.
“We’re looking for rights for women and this is taking away all the women’s rights. That a person can open a business and say, ‘You know what, I’m not comfortable handling someone else’s genitals of another sex,’ whether its an immigrant or just because they are uncomfortable and they’re not allowed to say no, that’s just ridiculous.”
Some of B.C.’s most vocal transgender activists have refused to back Yaniv in the case.
Morgane Oger, a 2017 BC NDP candidate, said the estheticians in the case “are not the right respondents” nor is Yaniv “the right complainant for a test of this difficult situation.”
Yaniv has also faced prior criticism from the tribunal itself. In May, she withdrew a complaint against waxing salon Laser Cut, earning a rebuke and cost penalty of $150 from the tribunal.
“I have found that JY’s pattern of filing a large number of complaints and then withdrawing those where the respondent mounts a defence is improper,” wrote tribunal member Devyn Cousineau.
Yaniv has asked for compensation ranging from $25,000 from one corporate facility to $7,500 from smaller operators.
Yaniv maintains her case is not about waxing or financial compensation but about preventing the refusal of service to people based on protected rights.
“If this rules not in my favour, what’s going to happen is that people can be denied service for anything and everything,” she told Global News.
However, a B.C. human rights lawyer says her case is a poor representation of the fight for trans rights.
“What I would just really would drive home is that this issue is…it’s salacious and it gets attention because it’s about genitals,” said Susanna Quail.
“This case does not represent the kind of situation where trans people are generally asserting their rights. This case is really an outlier. So the kinds of situations where trans people are asserting their rights are around things like employment and housing, family violence, services in schools.“
Quail added that she does not believe the case will set a precedent whichever way the tribunal rules because it is outside of the general thrust of trans activism — but also because “every case turns on its own facts, and the facts are extremely unique here.”
The tribunal is expected to rule within three months.
Yaniv’s name was initially under a publication ban, which has since been rescinded due to her prominence on social media and public activism.
Her case has attracted international attention, including a segment by Tucker Carlson on Fox News and multiple tweets by comedian Ricky Gervais, who has subsequently been accused by some of transphobia.
The case is the latest thorny controversy to arise out of the intersection of gender expression and other rights.
Earlier this year, both the Vancouver Public Library and the University of British Columbia were disinvited from the Vancouver Pride Parade after hosting controversial speakers who critics have charged with promoting hatred against transgender people.
Both events drew crowds of demonstrators on both sides and sparked debate over free speech rights and the rights of transgender people.
The City of Vancouver has also faced controversy when it rescinded funding to the Vancouver Rape Relief and Women’s Shelter over the facility’s policy of not accepting trans women.
—With files from Jill Bennett