Queer Yukon remembers lost lives on Transgender Day of Remembrance

Members and allies of the trans community add their messages on the Queer Yukon’s Wall of Remembrance in Whitehorse on Sunday. The initiative will be a lasting installation at the organization’s main office and will be shared at other locations in Watson Lake and Dawson City. (Virginie Ann/CBC - image credit)
Members and allies of the trans community add their messages on the Queer Yukon’s Wall of Remembrance in Whitehorse on Sunday. The initiative will be a lasting installation at the organization’s main office and will be shared at other locations in Watson Lake and Dawson City. (Virginie Ann/CBC - image credit)

Queer Yukon's office in Whitehorse was filled with kind whispered words, heartfelt hugs and familiar faces as members of the transgender community gathered to honour those who have lost their lives to transphobic violence.

Members and allies came together on Sunday for Transgender Day of Remembrance, a memorial day that Queer Yukon's communications manager Mira Sirois said came out of a need to grieve collectively.

"It's been a hard year … every year is hard," Sirois told CBC News at the event.

"This year felt like things were getting harder. There's been more visible and outspoken people that are against us. I really needed to hold space for that anger and also that grief. I didn't want to do it alone — that's the importance of this day. So often, we are alone when we grieve, and I needed to be here with my community."

The vigil came as a report from the Trans Murder Monitoring research project reported that at least 327 transgender and gender-diverse people were killed worldwide between October 2021 and this past September. It's a small drop from last year, when 375 murders had been reported — making 2021 the deadliest year the project has recorded for transgender and gender-diverse people.

Sirois said such numbers force the transgender community to be in a constant state of hypervigilance.

"There's a lot of fear about going out, interacting with the world," Sirois said.

"A lot of trans folks who died, often their death goes unnoticed. Trans Day came as a need to recognize that and hold space for those we lost to violence and oppression."

The day has been observed across the world since 1999. For the occasion, Queer Yukon invited people to light a lantern, leave an offering, or add to the Wall of Remembrance — an art installation open for anyone to leave a message or painting.

Virginie Ann/CBC
Virginie Ann/CBC

Whitehorse resident Samantha Allan chose to write "We are still here" over red paint, a quote from The Matrix.

"It's easy for people to forget about the fact we exist on days that are not Trans Day [of] Visibility or Remembrance day," Allan told CBC News at the vigil.

"It seems like a lot of the time, we have to actively force people to talk about us, otherwise we get marginalized out of society."

Allan, who's originally from Edmonton, said the memorial day is not only a chance to remember lost ones, but also acknowledge the harm transphobic violence perpetuates daily.

"Regardless of whether we are losing people from active homicide, depression or other forms of suicide, we do lose a lot of people," Allan said.

"Even the people we don't lose, in reality, we end up losing more and more people forced into the closet. We lose the ability for people to be themselves."

The transgender community will always face challenges no matter where they are, Allan continued, but she recognized those challenges can be bigger in smaller cities such as Whitehorse.

"Everyone knows you here," she said, explaining that it could make it harder for someone to transition.

Allan, however, said she'd encourage anyone, new or ongoing members to the transgender community, to reach out for support and look after themselves.

"We are still here," she said. "We are still causing challenges to people in power, to the idea of a binary system for humanity, and if not a hopeful message, then it fills me with a certain sense of resolve to keep on living."