Pride YMM is hosting a panel with current and former residents who are transgender for International Transgender Day of Visibity on March 31.
Leaders in the local LGBTQ2S+ community have continued making space for activism throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. Highlighting local LGBTQ2S+ experiences has been crucial to keep the community connected during isolation.
Mitchel Bowers, chair of Pride YMM, hopes next week’s panel will remove some stigma surrounding transgender people in the Fort McMurray Wood Buffalo area.
“When you put a face, a name and a story to a label, then it no longer becomes just a label and it becomes an actual person,” said Bowers.
According to a 2019 Canadian survey of trans and non-binary youth from the University of British Columbia, 77 per cent of the 281 trans youth surveyed in Alberta have avoided public washrooms out of fear of being harassed or outed. Nearly 70 per cent do not feel safe using washrooms at school.
Bowers said events like the panel can bring hope to trans youth and adults struggling with their identity.
“So many of them don’t have supportive families and aren’t out,” said Bowers. “Being visible and putting ourselves out there and sharing our stories helps connect us.”
Cindy Rivers-Hann, a public speaker, activist and community educator hopes to discuss what it is like being transgender in Fort McMurray during the panel.
“I like to talk about my experiences so people can see that it’s possible to still be a healthy happy adult with a decent career, even if they are gender diverse or different,” said Rivers-Hann. “Sometimes people don’t know anyone like themselves and feel very isolated, so this really gives a sense of normalcy and community.”
Pride YMM has been working to keep the local transgender community connected through monthly support groups. One group is hosted by trans people for trans people, and the other is for anyone with a trans loved one looking for resources and support.
“That can be parents of trans children or that can be a partner of some who is transitioning,” said Bowers. “It’s for anyone looking to talk with people who are going through similar experiences because it’s a very unique experience.”
Other people have found art as an effective way to keep LGBTQ2S+ activism alive during the pandemic.
Fort McMurray resident Caitlin Downie said there is a long history of queer activism locally and is starting a book project, titled "Queering Activism," that will include essays, poetry, photography and artwork from local LGBTQ2S+ people.
“When you think of Wood Buffalo you may not always think about the LGBTQ2S+ community that we have here,” said Downie. “We want to celebrate the vibrancy of the queer community in all of its forms.”
Tara Joly, Downie’s project partner, considers the Fort McMurray Wood Buffalo area ahead of many municipalities in terms of victories for local LGBTQ2S+ activists, including council's ban on conversion therapy in Jan. 2020.
Council also passed a proclamation recognizing Transgender Day of Visibility during Tuesday's council meeting, and the municipality will light the Saline Creek Bridge in the transgender flag colours on March 31.
“Being a queer person in Wood Buffalo and not necessarily always feeling safe to disclose that identity and being at a potentially increase risk of violence is a very real concern,” said Joly. “But a project like this can offer folks a chance to explore these things, express themselves and connect with others in times when we’re pretty isolated.”
Sarah Williscraft, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Fort McMurray Today