TO Transgender Community Remembers Those Lost to Violence

toronto transgender community

A flag is raised for Transgender Day of Remembrance in Toronto (Image: Patty Hails)

With violence against trans people at an all-time high, events such as the Transgender Day of Remembrance are especially poignant and critical. Vv Magazine’s Patty Hails sat down with some LGBT community leaders to get their take on what has to happen going forward.

Sunday marked the 2016 Transgender Day of Remembrance with a flag raising at Queen’s Park and a candlelight vigil in the Church-Wellesley village, followed by a flag raising and reception at City Hall on Monday.

While visibility has increased, so has the rate of hate crimes against trans people. Reports of violence against trans people, specifically trans women of color, are at an all-time high.

Reports of violence against trans people, specifically trans women of color, are at an all-time high.

Boyd Kodak is a longtime trans rights advocate and is a fixture in Toronto LGBT activist circles. He heads up the Toronto Trans Alliance and organizes the Trans Day of Remembrance each year.

While I interviewed Kodak over the phone, he stood outside the 519 and held the door open for community members on their way to the candlelight vigil. From what I can tell, he doesn’t take breaks.

“It’s so horrific to me personally to see that the numbers this year, both worldwide and in North America, are the highest ever. And you know, it’s just not right. I mean it should be going the other way, not this way,” Kodak said.

Kodak has brought legal battles to the Human Rights Tribunal and won, twice. The most recent decision stemmed from an incident a few years ago in which Kodak was arrested, repeatedly misgendered and forced to wear women’s clothes in a women’s prison; despite the passage of Toby’s Act at around the same time.

NDP MPP Cheri DiNovo authored a bill called Toby’s Act. It’s a law that guarantees equal protection based on gender identity and expression. It passed in 2012 after she spent years fighting to get it through the Legislature.

While she has spent the last 45 years fighting for LGBTQ equality, DiNovo’s accomplishments over the past 15 years are arguably the most remarkable. She performed the first legally recognized same-sex wedding, “I think in North America actually,” in 2001.

toronto transgender community

John Tory speaks at City Hall (Image: Patty Hails)

She tabled Bill 77 in the Legislature to ban conversion therapy and Cy and Ruby’s Act which affords same-sex parents the right to be legally recognized as such, without having to adopt their kids. Both of those laws passed in 2015.

DiNovo is currently working on legislation that would permanently enshrine the Transgender Day of Remembrance at Queen’s Park so it gets commemorated every year, regardless of who the Premier is.

And there are countless other changes that still need to occur.

When we spoke, DiNovo was headed to a debate with U of T professor Jordan Peterson. Peterson has been in the news because he refuses to use gender neutral pronouns when addressing non-binary students, oddly calling the use of gender neutral pronouns dangerous.

DiNovo said the Queer Caucus at Queen’s Park was calling for a boycott of the debate.

“It’s part of the Human Rights Code now in Ontario to treat trans folk with dignity and equally, and he’s obviously not doing that, so why give him more air time,” DiNovo said.

“This idea that a publicly financed university has a debate on an already won human right is really quite shocking, and I think the Wynne government should step in on that,” she added.

Refusing to treat trans, gender non-conforming and non-binary students with dignity is particularly harmful when one considers the already shocking rates of suicide among queer youth.

Refusing to treat trans, gender non-conforming and non-binary students with dignity is particularly harmful when one considers the already shocking rates of suicide among queer youth.

Kristyn Wong-Tam, Toronto City Councillor for Ward 27, said the city needs to implement gender-neutral bathrooms in all its facilities and that it should train and educate staff to avoid discrimination of everyone “regardless of their geographical address, regardless of their gender, regardless of their skin colour or the god that they choose to worship, and regardless of their gender identity.”

I asked Wong-Tam what she would say to youth who might be struggling.

“I would say it’s really important to recognize, even though it might not feel like it at the time, that you are loved. You belong to an incredibly powerful movement of people who have been civil rights and human rights leaders. You are cherished. We need you to stay healthy and strong. Things that seem insurmountable today will not feel that way in the weeks and months to come as you grow stronger,” Wong-Tam said.

toronto transgender community

Kristyn Wong-Tam (Image: Patty Hails)

She added that whether people choose to alter their bodies as they transition, and regardless of how they identify, “there is nothing but perfection in who they are”.

Everyone I spoke with mentioned the need to come together in support of one another as a community. It seems like an obvious takeaway.

A group of people who called themselves protesters showed up at both flag raising events and yelled profanities during the events’ moments of silence. I asked Wong-Tam to comment.

“Just as much as I respect your right to protest, I hope that you can respect that those family members and friends and loved ones and lovers have gathered to remember people.”

Yep. My thoughts exactly.

RELATED LINK: How the CNE is Promoting Gender Equality

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Patty Hails

Patty is a Toronto-based freelance writer, political news junkie and outspoken queer intersectional feminist. Follow her on Twitter at @PattyInHD