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Trans Day of Remembrance: a time of social change

We live in a time of great social change.

Awareness of issues that had previously been ignored have garnered more media attention in recent times. There is increasingly more awareness and acceptance of neurodiversity, how race and class affect people’s life opportunities and experiences in various demographics, identities that diverge and challenge heteronormativity, and conventional ideologies around gender, among others.

However, despite this progress, there is an inevitable backlash; to those who don’t have an understanding of oppression politics, this is seen as the negatively connoted “political correctness” with the admonition of concepts like safe spaces and measures taken to prevent people from being triggered.

This kind of willful ignorance and lack of initiative to understand struggles of minority populations leads to further violence through micro-aggressions.

As Maya Angelou, author of I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, famously states in her book, “Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.”

We now know better, so we are doing better in terms of educating ourselves about our privileges, and attempting to make the world a safer and more comfortable place for minorities who are systemically disadvantaged by political, cultural, and social structures.

The Trans Day of Remembrance is one of the reasons why such measures are crucial, and even life saving. There have been three trans suicides in our Peterborough community in just this month alone.

The intersections of discrimination and hate become tragically obvious when we look at the number of murdered trans women of colour this year.

In the last seven years alone, there have been over 1,700 transgender people killed, according to the trans murder-monitoring project—an organization that aims to collect this data worldwide in order to increase awareness of this largely silent epidemic.

This day reserved for honouring trans lives lost began with the murder of Rita Hester, a highly visible member of the transgender community, in 1998. She worked as an educator and trans advocate in her native city of Boston. She was stabbed 20 times in her apartment and died shortly after. Her murderer has still not been found.

The Trans Day of Remembrance/Resiliency (TDoR), which took place last Friday, November 20, at Seeds of Change inside the George Street United Church but is also commemorated worldwide, was a way for the community to remember lives lost due to murder and suicide.

The event, which gathered approximately 75 attendees, started with a candlelight vigil to commemorate the members of the trans community who are no longer with us, followed by a community celebration of the community’s resilience in the face of violence and prejudice, as well as in celebration of the diverse identities that exist.

In the words of event organizer, Drew Whatman: “TDoR is a time to bring the community together to remember those we lost due to anti-trans violence and discrimination. The trans community is particularly vulnerable to violence, as well as suicide, and most in it have felt the ripples of those events in their lives.

This event not only gives people a place to remember and reflect on those we lost, but also to celebrate the memory of their lives, and to celebrate those who are still with us. Events like this foster community, connections, and support within the trans community and the community at large.”

Anya Gwynne from Peterborough Aids Resource Network (PARN) speaks to the intersections of health, trans identities, stigma, and discrimination: “To PARN, participating in this day is a recognition of the complex and intersecting issues that result in people’s increased risk for HIV and STBBIs.

When people are marginalized and made to feel less than or invalidated, there is a profound impact on their health outcomes. In our work with the Rainbow youth program and LGBTQ youth, we are aware that connection and support are crucial to shifting from risk to resiliency.”

Cis-gender people (those who are biologically male/female and identify as a man/woman respectively) can affect much change as allies. Gwynne states, “This day exists because the ‘cis’ stems do not reflect the reality that there are trans people and that there are many genders and many ways of expressing gender. We are taught that there are males and females and that somehow we are owed this knowledge of one another, and therefore, when people are non-conforming or identify themselves as a gender, not their assignment, many cis people react in anger and violence. This violence and discrimination is the reason that we require a day to recognize the losses.”

Whatman astutely adds, “Though there is one specific day set aside to reflect, sometimes it can feel like we are in mourning so often. Lost friends due to a murder, due to a suicide, is not all together too rare.

We need to listen to the voices of trans people before they are lost, when they are alive, not just when they die. Attending TDoR events, for those wishing to remember, can be a good way to show support but not necessarily a good time to learn or be educated, as many people are vulnerable and privately mourning at that time.

What cis folks need to know is that this is a day specifically set aside to remember, but it’s not just one day, it’s everyday. Educating yourself on trans lives can be hard but it can mean so much. Respect is key. Respect our identities, our bodies, and our existence.”

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