VANCOUVER — A B.C. Human Rights Tribunal hearing devolved into repeated outbursts and name-calling this week as it considered a transgender woman’s complaint that a home-based salon discriminated against her by denying her a Brazilian wax.
At one point, the complainant compared the business owner to a neo-Nazi. The lawyer for the business owner accused the complainant of engaging in “half-truths and fabrications.” Tribunal adjudicator Devyn Cousineau frequently had to interject to maintain decorum and to keep the hearing from careening off course.
But a substantive question remained at the core of the raucous daylong hearing: should a business be allowed to deny service on the basis of gender identity?
Jessica Yaniv, the complainant, told the hearing she was entitled to receive the advertised wax service and that if the tribunal ruled against her it could lead to a “dangerous” precedent.
“You cannot choose who your clientele is going to be,” she said.
However, business owner Marcia Da Silva said she was not comfortable carrying out a Brazilian wax on a person with male genitalia, nor did she have the training for it. Jay Cameron, Da Silva’s lawyer and litigation manager with the Alberta-based Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms, told the hearing that a ruling against his client would be tantamount to ordering “intimate services” against someone’s will.
The complaint heard Wednesday is one of more than a dozen filed by Yaniv, who describes herself as a digital marketing expert and LGBTQ activist. All allege she was the subject of discrimination by salons. A few complaints have been settled without hearing or withdrawn.
Yaniv also made headlines recently for engaging in a social media spat with free-speech advocate Lindsay Shepherd, in which they both made disparaging remarks about each other. Twitter subsequently banned Shepherd from the platform, but not Yaniv.
The tribunal had initially issued a publication ban shielding Yaniv’s identity, but on Wednesday Cousineau decided to lift the ban based on Yaniv’s social media presence and public advocacy.
At Wednesday’s hearing, Yaniv, who is representing herself, said she came upon a Facebook ad in spring 2018 offering a promotion for a Brazilian wax, which involves the removal of pubic hair around the groin.
Da Silva testified she had just started her home-based business after previously performing waxes on family and friends. Yaniv was the first person to respond to her ad, she said.
They agreed over text message to an afternoon appointment. But Yaniv testified that after identifying herself as transgender and sending Da Silva a selfie, Da Silva cancelled the session.
Da Silva told the tribunal, “I have no problem with LGBT.” She said she was just not comfortable waxing male genitals. The idea also did not sit well with her husband, she said. Further, she didn’t have any experience doing it.
Everyone has the right to decide who comes in to their home, she added, noting that she was also uncomfortable with the persistent messages she was getting from Yaniv.
“For my safety, I said, ‘No,’” she testified.
Da Silva told the tribunal she defined someone who is transgender as a person who has undergone sex-reassignment surgery. She responded affirmatively when asked if she’d perform the waxing service on someone who had undergone such surgery.
Yaniv said the advertisement Da Silva posted was open to the public and didn’t come with any conditions. She said that Da Silva should have accepted that Yaniv identifies as female rather than make assumptions about her based on appearance.
“Your gender identity is your own,” Yaniv testified. “We live in a different day and age now.”
At one point, Yaniv equated the denial of service to neo-Nazism.
Under cross-examination, Cameron put to Yaniv that Brazilian waxes were services performed only around female genitalia and that what Yaniv should have sought was a “brozilian” — waxes that involve male genitalia.
That prompted Yaniv to tell the tribunal that she was intersex and that she had female body parts.
“It exists,” she said, declining to elaborate.
Cameron accused her of an outright “fabrication.”
“You’re attempting to mislead the tribunal,” he said.
Cameron called Yaniv’s credibility into question and earlier suggested that Yaniv had used a fake Facebook profile of a pregnant woman when she initially sought out the waxing service, a claim Yaniv denied.
The tribunal heard that Da Silva shut down her salon business after her encounter with Yaniv.
Earlier this month the JCCF also represented two other aestheticians who were the subject of similar complaints from Yaniv. One of them, a Sikh woman, said she declined to provide the waxing service for religious and safety reasons, according to a column posted by John Carpay, the centre’s president, on the website The Post Millennial.
Businesses shouldn’t be allowed to use religion and culture to refuse service, Yaniv said.
The justice centre obtained an expert who operates a men-only salon, Carpay wrote. That expert testified male clients will often get aroused when receiving waxing services. Also, the ideal wax for male genitals is different because the skin is very thin.
Over the past year, the centre has made headlines for launching a legal challenge in Alberta against a law surrounding the formation of school clubs that are designed to support LGBTQ students (gay-straight alliances), specifically the section that prevents parents from being notified if their child joins one. In a speech Carpay also compared the rainbow pride flag to the swastika, comments for which he later apologized.
Decisions on the various human rights complaints are not expected for weeks.
Accusations fly at human rights hearing into transgender woman’s Brazilian wax complaint
Totally agreedIt’s quite obvious to anyone with sense that this person is extremely unwell and should not be encouraged, in fact they need help before they really hurt someone else (if they haven’t already) or themselves.