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Saturday, October 16, 1999

Lesbian group fined $3,000 for snub
'female' banned from club
Neal Hall
The Vancouver Sun

VANCOUVER - A lesbian group has been ordered to pay $3,000 after a B.C. Human Rights Tribunal hearing found it committed sexual discrimination by asking a transgendered person to stay away from its drop-in centre.

The Vancouver Lesbian Connection is to pay $3,000 to Susan Mamela, a preoperative transgendered person -- meaning she hasn't had surgery to change her sex to female. She began attending the University of British Columbia's Gender Clinic in 1995 and has received hormonal therapy.

The tribunal order was entered this week in the Supreme Court of British Columbia, giving it the effect of a court order.

Ms. Mamela described herself to the human rights tribunal as a radical lesbian feminist who rejects male society's attempt to define her and "make a woman out of me."

"My client's view," Ms. Mamela's lawyer, Clea Parfitt, explained on Thursday, "is that she's not a woman and never can be a woman because it's a social-political construct based on a lot of stereotypes and restrictions. She prefers the term female."

Ms. Mamela first approached the Vancouver Lesbian Connection in February, 1996, to become a member. She was told she couldn't join because she had been born male.

The Connection's membership in February, 1996, was only open to "lesbian/queer women" and its mission was to "end lesbian oppression" and "promote community awareness of women's and lesbian issues."

But after the Connection's annual general meeting in May, 1996, the group changed its membership policy to include transgendered and bisexual women.

The complainant was a member of the Connection from October, 1996, until March, 1997, when she was asked to leave after a heated argument over what constitutes womanhood.

Ms. Mamela was accused by Connection members of being "aggressive and mannish" and the group felt it was inappropriate that she answer phones to the women's crisis line because she sounded like a man.

Ms. Mamela was asked to leave on March 21, 1997, and was refused access to the centre. Ms. Mamela's lawyer said the Connection is no longer operating but still must pay the damage award.

In the tribunal's decision, dated Sept. 8, tribunal member Nitya Iyer upheld Ms. Mamela's complaint and ordered the Vancouver Lesbian Connection to pay $3,000 in compensation for injury to Ms. Mamela's "dignity, feelings and self-respect."

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