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Jamie Lee Hamilton, 1955–2020

Becki L. Ross

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Eulogy for Jamie Lee Hamilton

St. Paul’s Anglican Church, 1130 Jervis Street
Saturday, January 25, 2020

Portrait of Jamie Lee Hamilton. Courtesy of Becki L. Ross.

Our dear friend, comrade and sister shit-disturber Jamie Lee Hamilton died of cancer at Cottage Hospice in the early morning of December 23, 2020. She was 64. She entered hospice on December 9, after losing mobility and strength over several months this past fall. Jamie Lee’s decline was very fast. Her death has left us heart-broken, shaken and deeply sorrowful. Before her death, Jamie Lee quietly, yet firmly, communicated her instructions for this memorial celebration to her close friends and Rector Philip Cochrane. We have done our best to honour her wishes here, on the ancestral and unceded land of the Musqueam, Tsleil-Waututh and Squamish peoples.

After this service, we invite you to the Church’s Lower Hall for guest speakers, and a beautiful, uplifting audio-visual tribute. There will be tea and sweets, including cupcakes adorned with rainbows and red umbrellas. Jamie Lee—event planner extraordinaire—always insisted on fabulous.

Born in Vancouver on September 20, 1955 to Alice Hamilton and Ralph Hamilton, Jamie Lee is survived by her sister Gail Parker and two nieces—Tracy and Katherine Letain—as well as her great, and great-great-nieces and nephews. We gather today knowing that Jamie Lee touched the hearts, minds and souls of countless friends, intimates and political supporters. She had political rivals—a sizeable number of whom she converted, over time, to her point of view. She was charming, talented and stubborn—a hurricane force of life.

In 1969, Jamie Lee began her gender odyssey at age 15; she worked with Dr. William Maurice, a supportive psychiatrist at UBC. Jamie Lee loved to tell the story of how her crew of teenaged trans kids frequented the White Lunch café on Granville Street. One day they met hostility: the café owner told them to clean up, and to stop wearing stilettos, raunchy outfits and pink lipstick. Then he demanded that they leave at once, as they were “bad for business.” After a quick caucus, Jamie Lee and co-conspirators marched past the long counter-top full of desserts, and they poked their fingers into each pie and cake, laughing defiantly along the way. It was an early, signature act of rebellion.

Jamie Lee was entrepreneurial: I met her when she operated Rainbow’s End—a shop for clothing, shoes and make-overs for trans women. She ran Queen’s Cross, later Forbidden City, for her trans and kink communities. And over the past five years, she hosted Pantyhose Wednesdays for newcomers and regulars. For decades, Jamie Lee loved to rent penthouses in the West End, the Pavilion and Rowing Club in Stanley Park, the Jimmy Hendrix Shrine, and rooms at her favourite hotels, where she staged elaborate gatherings for friends and community members.


Numerous times, Jamie Lee leveraged her notoriety and connections to run for political office: City Council, School Board and Park Board. In 1996, she invited me to join her first campaign. I submitted, unable to say no to her forceful urging. Jamie Lee taught me to be unafraid of canvasing with her, door to door. No small feat: years earlier, as a Brownie growing up in Sudbury in northern Ontario, I was so nervous about selling Girl Guide cookies to strangers that I bought all of the boxes myself with my babysitting money. Jamie Lee taught me the power and value of fundraising for people and causes that deserve our collective support.

While never formally elected, Jamie Lee committed her life to enacting justice: for the decriminalization of adult sex work; against cetaceans in captivity, for safe drug injection sites; against a buried hydro-electric substation in Nelson Park; for affordable housing; against Customs censorship of queer porn at the US/Canada border; for upkeep and expansion of recreational facilities in the city. Jamie Lee’s knowledge of Vancouver’s political culture was legendary and encyclopedic. At every opportunity, she flexed her civic muscle.

In 1998, while dumping 67 pairs of stilettos on the steps of City Hall in the driving rain, Jamie Lee called on Vancouver mayor Philip Owen to fund emergency cell phones for sex workers as a safety measure. Also in the late 1990s, on December 6, Jamie Lee and I gathered with supporters in Thornton Park to read aloud the names of women, disproportionately Indigenous, who were going missing and being murdered in horrifying numbers. Together, we attended February 14 memorial marches organized by Indigenous activists in the downtown Eastside. Jamie Lee opened Grandma’s House, a safe house for women in the sex industry. And a few years later, she opened Pandora’s Box, another brothel and refuge. When Pandora’s Box was forcibly shut down by police in 2000, Jamie Lee knew the irony and the hypocrisy: 100 years earlier, over 100 brothels were knitted into the economic and cultural fabric of Gastown. They were run by respected madams, including Birdie Stewart and Marie Gomez. Jamie Lee never ever stopped telling the truth.

In 2013, in the legal case of Bedford vs. Canada, Beverly McLaughlin, Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Canada, cited and recognized Jamie Lee’s decades-long battle to defend worker-run brothels. McLaughlin and the other eight justices voted unanimously to declare prostitution laws unconstitutional and a threat to the life, liberty and security of adult sex workers. That elements of sex work were recriminalized one year later, in 2014, by Stephen Harper’s Conservatives, led by Justice Minister Peter Mackay, was a bitter pill to swallow for all of us determined to advance sex workers’ agency and sovereignty.

In her role as advocate, alarm ringer and champion of the “underdog,” Jamie Lee was an ingenious influencer, well before influencer became a social media “thing.”  She was an early adopter of email, blogging and Facebook. She used the internet to communicate, educate, organize, advertise her services, and tend to relationships. A feminist, she had a finely-tuned critique of toxic masculinity. Let’s recall part of her email signature: “we can change the world, one man at a time.”

Métis Cree, trans and Two Spirit, Jamie Lee described her proud, half-century relationship to the sex industry as on again, off again, on again, off again, on again. I invited Jamie Lee to be a guest lecturer at UBC for over twenty years—she taught more than two thousand students that she was unashamed and unapologetic about consensual paid sex. She relished spreading her saucy sexpertise like organic fertilizer. Her central message: a sex worker does not sell her body; rather, she sells her time, companionship and skills. Jamie Lee taught students to respect providers of sexual labour.

Because of Jamie Lee’s influence, university students who have worked as exotic dancers in local strip clubs in Vancouver—the No. 5 Orange and Brandi’s—have felt safe to come out in classrooms. They have shared their stories of working conditions and paying off student debt, and they have wisely educated their peers, lovers, and families, emboldened and supported by Jamie Lee’s example.

In 2008, Jamie Lee and I co-founded the 15-member West End Sex Workers Memorial Committee. After doing interviews and archival research, we raised awareness of a historical wrong in need of redress: in the early 1980s, the West End was home to 200 diversely gendered and racialized sex workers. While earning cash on the tranny stroll, fish (cis) stroll and hustlers row, Jamie Lee and other “hookers on Davie” nurtured networks of kin and care; they established sophisticated strategies for risk assessment and safety planning. They belonged to one of the first sex workers’ rights organizations in the country: the Alliance for the Safety of Prostitutes, or ASP. But their flamboyant presence was opposed by the anti-prostitution juggernaut CROWE (Concerned Residents of the West End).

CROWE and the vigilante group Shame the Johns lobbied relentlessly to frame sex workers as a “dangerous, public nuisance” and a “threat to property values.” In 1982, $28,000 dollars in fines were illegally extracted from sex workers charged under Mayor Mike Harcourt’s anti-hooker bylaw, which was designed to criminalize street-based solicitation. Then in July 1984, a devastating ruling: Chief Justice Allan McEachern of the BC Supreme Court leveled a legal injunction that forcibly expelled street-based sex workers out of their own hookerhood to what Jamie Lee called the “killing fields” of Vancouver’s industrial East End.

In 2015, having made a successful case for reparations to Vancouver’s City Manager, Penny Ballem, our memorial committee reclaimed the $28,000 from city coffers (minus interest). In September 2016, with the support of Mary Clare Zak and Ty Mistry of the Social Planning Department, we installed our gorgeous lamppost and bronze plaques outside this Church, St. Paul’s. The first and only sex workers’ memorial in Canada, it stands as a majestic reckoning: that whorephobia, misogyny, transphobia, and racism must never again rule the West End.


For 10 years, Jamie Lee and I co-designed and co-led our Commemorative Stroll: we guided groups of 30-40 students, visitors and residents along West End streets. We stopped, and told stories, at prominent landmarks once meaningful to sex workers in the ’hood: Columbia Inn, Au Petit Bout Café, Black Angus Steak House, Little Sister’s Bookstore, Champagne Charlie’s, and the Taurus Steambath, among them. We created quite a sensation—no surprise, as everyone knew Jamie Lee! After September 2016, our decision to end each Stroll at our Memorial was emotionally profound for all who shared the journey.

In recent years, Jamie Lee was in high demand as a public intellectual: in addition to lectures at UBC, Douglas College, Capilano University, and Simon Fraser University, she gave keynote addresses at conferences, events and workshops for feminist anti-violence groups, including the Ending Violence Association of BC and WAVAW Rape Crisis Centre.

Jamie Lee was immensely proud of being a consultant for the Missing Women Commission in Vancouver, the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls, and groups of Indigenous Two-Spirits. In June 2019, Jamie Lee and I were delighted to be co-winners of the Angus Reid Prize in Applied Sociology for community engagement. Also in 2019, Jamie Lee was nominated for an Honorary Doctorate at Simon Fraser University. She would have loved to strut that stage in full regalia.

In July 2019, Jamie Lee returned to her beloved West End, after 35 years of exile. For five months before she died, her active, artistic and nurturing Mole Hill community was idyllic. She relished her neighbors and her new garden-level home, a short block from our Memorial.

After her passing, what do I miss? Jamie Lee’s forthrightness, integrity, and humour. Her laughter was like champagne, all bubbly and rich. Jamie Lee identified fiercely as a woman and she embraced style, fashion and glamour to showcase her femininity. She was one sexy Queen. Jamie Lee’s appetite for MAC cosmetics, Chinese cuisine, fish and chips, networking, and radical social justice was epic. Jamie Lee was happily single; she was unapologetically and flagrantly non-monogamous. Child-free by choice, Jamie Lee became mentor and Mama to many young Two-Spirit and LGBTQ+ youth coming up in the life. And she was enormously proud of her nieces’ and nephews’ achievements.

From her start to her end, Jamie Lee Hamilton was a true original. She forged her path from adversity. She was passionately determined to make a difference in the world. She did that. Our city, our province, and our country became wiser, more equitable and more sparkly because of Jamie Lee’s lifetime of effort. I miss her terribly. I will miss her forever.

Becki L. Ross

Becki L. Ross is a long-time academic-activist in social movements, including feminist activism, Two Spirit and LGBTQ+ liberation, trans rights, sex workers’ sovereignty, and reproductive justice. Born in Sudbury, Ontario, Becki dedicated almost thirty years to feminist, queer, anti-colonial teaching and research in Sociology and the Institute for Gender, Race, Sexuality, and Social Justice (GRSJ) at the University of British Columbia. A prize-winning teacher and writer, Becki wrote The House That Jill Built: A Lesbian Nation in Formation (1995) and Burlesque West: showgirls, sex, and sin in Postwar Vancouver (2009). Becki’s published research appears in BC Studies, The Journal of Women’s History, Canadian Theatre Review, Sexualities, The Journal of the History of Sexuality, Labour/le travail, and The Conversation. In 2008, with the late Métis Cree trans sex worker and advocate, Jamie Lee Hamilton, Becki co-founded the West End Sex Workers Memorial Committee. After eight years of meetings, project development, and coordination with the City of Vancouver, we installed our Memorial lamppost and bronze plaques to honour sex workers who were violently expelled from the West End in 1984. Officially retired in July 2023, Becki is grateful for time and energy to nurture friendship, embrace competitive golf, write, read, garden, cook, curl, and play pickleball.