Earlier this week, Shelley Taylor, the owner of Venus Envy, was fined under a city bylaw that states no one under the age of 18 is permitted in an establishment where goods, entertainment or services that are “designed to appeal to erotic or sexual appetites or inclinations” are provided.
The complaint came from a parent after their child purchased the binder, “a compression vest that you wear like a tank top to compress the chest area," explained Taylor.
"I wasn't surprised that at some point some parent would be mad at us for helping out their kids," Taylor told CTV News. Access to products like these are considered crucial for transgender youth who are transitioning and want to affirm their gender identity. Venus Envy is the only store in Ottawa that sells them.
In a CTV News report, the acting deputy city manager for Ottawa, Susan Jones, says she probably helped write that bylaw some 30 years ago, but times have changed, and so too, she says, should this regulation.
"Yes, this bylaw needs to be reviewed," says Jones. "I think the charge should be withdrawn, and I will reach out to our provincial offences office to do that."
In the meantime, thanks to the incredible support of Somerset Coun. Catherine McKenney, the fine has been waived. In a few months, they will review the relevancy of the bylaw, and citizens will be invited to weigh in. However, McKenney told the Ottawa Citizen earlier this week, “Stores like Venus Envy have a role to play. It’s an issue of public health, mental health and support for youth. It just makes sense we would look at this bylaw and make sure it reflects the need for these purchases,” she said.
Though it’s been suggested that binders and gaffs (designed to smooth the genital area) be sold in pharmacies, Taylor explains that the comfort level of a drugstore isn’t comparable to that of a shop, “where there are trained staff, a private place with a mirror to try things on and a supportive environment.”
Taylor removed the videos sold from the floor to allow the shop to become an all-ages space. She says a bylaw officer told her that if she doesn’t have sexually explicit magazines or videos in that space, she doesn’t need a licence.
“City staff were doing their job. But you have to review bylaws and see that they’re relevant to the 21st century.”
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