A community is brought together to honour lives lost
"Many of us who have transitioned, there has been this fear of what could happen or what might happen if somebody objects to who we are," transgender Mercedes Allen said.
About eight years ago before her transition, Calgarian Allen was attacked at a parking lot when she lived in Edmonton.
Braving her fears, Allen attended Calgary's 7th annual Transgender Day of Remembrance.
On its 14th year worldwide, the gathering commemorates those whose lives have been lost due to gender identity hatred or prejudice. At the Old Y Centre on Sunday, Nov. 18, the 68 guests outnumbered the seats at the venue.
For the first time since 2008, a Canadian is on the list.
January Marie Lapuz of New Westminster, B.C. was stabbed to death on Sept. 29 this year.
In attendance at the event were people who identify under the trans-umbrella, anyone who self-identifies as transgendered, and some were allies and friends of the community.
"It gives us the chance to gather and recognize that we are a part of the
community," she said.
"We're not alone in that respect."
Some shared their personal experiences while many highlighted the importance of community support.
Lyn Baer, one of the three event organizers, said a lot of education needs
to happen to shine a light on the transgender community and the issues
members of the community face.
"This memorial reminds us that there's so much work to do," Baer said.
"Because we're often attached to the LGB community and sexual orientation rights and privileges have come so far that people forget that the transgender identity is not a sexuality. They forget that those same rights haven't been extended."
Baer's fiancé was one of the speakers for the evening.
"She's the love of my life," Baer said. "This is something obviously close to my heart."
One of Baer's children is also trans-identified. She says her daughter is in the middle of figuring out who she is.
"She's only 11 (years old) and I think it's important for me to create a world where she can find herself safely, freely and not in fear."
As the event continues to grow, Allen said she is seeing growing support.
"They braved death to be themselves."
— Lyn Baer
She recognized that support isn't limited to strictly people in the trans community.
Candles were lit as a moment of silence proceeded, in memoriam of members of the trans-community who have died from hate crimes.
Tears flowed as names were individually listed and shared to remember the victims globally – from Brazil to India.
Transgender Europe gathers a list every year of deaths where the victim could be identified as trans or the crime was motivated by discrimination against or hatred of trans community members. The 61 victims named are the cases in which a trans identity has been the confirmed motivation of violence.
The crowd bowed down their heads, held hands and hugged each other for comfort as everyone listened to the list continue:
Unidentified person - Neck injury, hands and feet tied, wrapped in a sheet and burned
Soraya- Gagged, had pieces of wood inserted into the anus, penis burned with alcohol
Agnes Torres Sulca - Neck wounds, burned, thrown in a ditch
Organizer Baer found it important to share these details to expose the level of violence.
"They braved death to be themselves," she said as she paused to wipe her tears.
Allen is evidently one of the many brave victims.
After the attack, Allen said she withdrew from everything. She didn't want to do anything or go anywhere.
"I would just go to work and go home – sometimes even try not to stop at the grocery store on the way home because I didn't want to have any participation with people."
Petrified for about six months after the attack, Allen said she couldn't take it anymore and her decision was either suicide or transitioning.
"As strange as it seems, because I already experienced the worst of it, there was still that little part of me that wanted to know if there was something positive, as well. I transitioned and I found out that there was," she said.
"It's become increasingly positive."
Another attendant, Adam Legace, is a transgendered man who said that support services are getting better in Calgary but he acknowledges that there is more work to be done.
Legace, 38, was born and raised in Calgary who didn't start transitioning until he was 33 years old.
"Mainly for me, I didn't know any of the resources. I didn't even know it was an option," Legace chuckled.
He said he is fortunate and grateful to find an employer who took a chance on him when he was first transitioning. He is hoping that more work environments would be open-minded since he said that finding employment is one of the biggest battles.
How do you feel about the trans-gendered issues many Calgarians are facing? Let us know in the comments below.
- By Kian Sumalpong