Community comes together for annual Transgender Day of Remembrance
Twenty-eight names were read at Calgary's annual Transgender Day of Remembrance, a community event that memorializes those who have been killed in the past year due to anti-transgender hatred or prejudice.
On Sunday, the room at the Old Y Centre For Community Organizations, located downtown, was filled with about 60 people, including trans individuals, friends, families and allies of the trans community.
One by one, the individuals in attendance lined up to read the name, date, age and location of a brother or sister lost to the community. The names came from all over the world: the United States, Brazil, France and Honduras.
Though none of the lost mentioned were Canadians, the crowd was silent as the names rang through the crowd.
People bowed their heads and grasped the hands of loved ones as a particularly harrowing description of the death of a 19-year-old woman from Detroit, Mich., was read aloud - her mother had to identify her torso at the medical examiner's office.
Lyn Baer, an organizer for the event, said in an email that the event brings to the forefront the struggles the trans community still has with hate crimes and violence.
"It's also meant to gather those that support stopping this violence," Baer said.
"The event shows the attendees that they are not alone, as they can look on either side of them and see someone else that believes this is important."
While none of the people murdered this past year were Canadian, members of the trans community in Calgary often experience discrimination and violence simply for being who they are.
Karynn Lam is a treasurer with Queers on Campus, a University of Calgary campus resource group, and also handles the organization's trans issues. Lam was in attendance at the event, which resonates with her own experiences.
"It touches my heart really deeply because I've been a victim of violence before," Lam said.
"Luckily I'm still here to speak about it."
"It's a constant reminder that we have to be careful with who we associate with, which is unfortunate because we should be able to live in society and be able to be amongst our fellow peers without any fear of recrimination, violence or any kind of intolerance that comes associated with being transgendered."
Lam said she hopes the event will bring more education to the general public about trans individuals and their experiences.
Gender identity – a person's internal sense of being male, female or something else
Gender expression – how a person communicates gender identity to others through behavior, clothing, hairstyles, voice or body characteristics
Trans – sometimes used as shorthand for "transgender" but not everyone whose appearance or behavior is gender-nonconforming will identify as a transgender person
"It kind of helps to make for better understanding and better acceptance of who we are, and it makes the community better as a whole when they realize that not everybody fits into this heteronormative 'column A or column B,'" Lam said.
Lam stressed it's important for people to realize that labels do not determine one's personality.
"Being transgendered is an extremely small part of who we really are, and at the end of the day we're still human beings, and we've still got lives, we've still got families, jobs, all these other things going for us that transgender cannot cover," Lam said.
"It's quite interesting that there are people that walk through this life without even realizing that they are associating with people who are transgender."
The memorial event also included speakers who are either prominent trans advocates within the community or allies to the trans community.
Justine Bonczek, one of the speakers at the event, is a 20-year-old co-chair of the Miscellaneous Youth Network, a non-profit organization dedicated to providing a safe space for queer and trans youth in Calgary.
"You should not have to feel unsafe or in danger for being who you are, for the way you talk, for the way you dress," Bonczek said.
"It's important that even if you don't identify as trans, or you feel it's not in your backyard, to show your support because there are people who need it."
Bonczek said that the people memorialized this year might not have identified as trans, but have simply had an appearance or behaviour that veers from dominant gender norms of male and female.
One of the names read included someone who was only identified by the media as, "a male dressed in women's clothes."
Bonczek said that despite how someone might identify, each of the names read at the event was a victim of violence based on bias against transgender people.
In the first nine months of 2011, 116 transgender people were murdered globally, according to Trans Murder Monitoring, a project coordinated by non-profit association Transgender Europe.
The organization's research suggests there have been at least 681 reports of murders in 50 countries since 2008.
Jessica Willes is a trans advocate and secretary for Pride Calgary, a not-for-profit organization that aims to promote awareness and understanding of Calgary's Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgendered, Questioning, and Allied (LGBTQA) community. Willes was also at the event and said it's a solemn reminder as to the types of dangers that trans individuals face on a daily basis, simply by going through life.
"I haven't been the victim of any violence myself, but attending an event like this can remind you it can happen at any moment, to any of us," Willes said.
"It's important for us to remember all of those in our community who weren't that fortunate in the last year, to remind us that we still have issues we need to work on. We have a long way to go for protection, and to make sure the rest of us don't end up like these people."
At the end of the event, there was an opportunity for friends and allies of the trans community to express their support.
Dallas Barnes, president of Pride Calgary, said that the trans community faces a different fight than the queer community, which is why it's important to show support.
"I think it's important that the public is aware that their sons, daughters, friends, whichever, are being murdered for who they are," Barnes said.
"If somebody fights so hard to be who they are, why are we ostracizing them? It's not like people have chosen, 'I'm going to have 10 years of surgery and have mental anguish.' Obviously people are fighting to be themselves and I think a lot of us are very afraid to be ourselves and I think they have some lessons to teach us."
|A BRIEF HISTORY
The Transgender Day of Remembrance was founded in 1998 to memorialize the murder of a trans woman named Rita Hester in Allston, Mass.
That year, Hester was stabbed at least 20 times in the chest in her apartment by an unknown assailant. Her murder kicked off the "Remembering Our Dead" memorial website and a San Francisco candlelight vigil in 1999.
Rita Hester's murder is still unsolved.
Since its inception, the Transgender Day of Remembrance has been held annually on Nov. 20th in more than 20 countries.
Currently, trans individuals are not explicitly protected in the Canadian Human Rights Act or Alberta Human Rights Act.
In September, two MPs from different parties each introduced a private member's bill in the House of Commons that seeks to amend the Canadian Human Rights Act to prohibit discrimination based on gender identity and gender expression.
In addition, both bills would amend the Criminal Code to include trans individuals as a recognized group, so that crimes committed against this group would be treated as hate crimes.
Calgary-Buffalo Liberal MLA Kent Hehr was in attendance at the event. In advance of the event, Hehr told The Calgary Journal that inclusion would help reduce the stigma around trans individuals.
"For full inclusion, there should probably be a change to the Alberta Human Rights Code that recognizes people who are transgendered, who are going through that process or have already been through that process," Hehr said.
"There's a growing stigma around it, and if we can eliminate some of that stigma by enshrining it into the legislation, why not?"
"We don't believe in discrimination of any form, whether you're gay, lesbian or transgender, or a person from Mars for that instance."
- By SILVIA PIKAL