Transgender Day of Remembrance brings out biggest-ever crowd

·3 min read
Travis Kingdon/CBC
Travis Kingdon/CBC

A flag raising was held at the Prince Edward Island Legislature in Charlottetown Friday afternoon to mark the annual Transgender Day of Remembrance.

The day has been held since 1999 after the death of Rita Hester, a transgender woman in the United States, and calls attention to the murder of transgender people, or their death by suicide. In P.E.I., those who gathered Friday called on government to remember trans peoples' needs when making legislation, and called on Islanders to support the community and get educated about it.

"I find it a very personal thing, as a trans person," to raise the pastel blue, pink and white Transgender Pride flag, said organizer Anastasia Preston.

Preston said 87 transgender people have been murdered in North America in the last year — two of those in Canada.

"Just seeing the number of people who are murdered throughout North America and Canada, it felt like something we had to call to account in our society and try to end," she said.

'Keep your hate to yourself'

The dozens in the crowd heard speeches about some of the obstacles transgender people face on P.E.I. and elsewhere, such as discrimination while seeking medical attention, discrimination when finding a place to live and bullying in the workplace.

Travis Kingdon/CBC
Travis Kingdon/CBC

Several people called attention to the death in police custody in Toronto in October of a Black trans woman known as Coco. Police misgendered her as male in their news release about the incident, sparking further outrage.

Preston said she hopes seeing the Trans Pride flag will remind those passing by that transgender people have rights — that applies to P.E.I.'s legislators, some of whom joined the crowd Friday.

I feel empowered in that more people are showing up to these events, and trying to learn and do better. — Rory Starkman

"Ideally, I wish everyone would respect us, but that's not the world we live in," Preston said. "Keep your hate to yourself.

"What I want officials to take away is there are transgender Islanders — there are actually quite a few of us," said Rory Starkman with PEERS Alliance. "Our trans Island community needs support and needs solidarity — there's so many things we're fighting for."

Travis Kingdon/CBC
Travis Kingdon/CBC

Gender diverse people are seeking more gender-neutral bathrooms, Starkman said, because not having a place to use the washroom marginalizes those who have transitioned and keeps those who haven't in the closet.

Starkman is the youth services co-ordinator with PEERS Alliance and said they frequently hear from transgender youth about their challenges accessing gender-neutral washrooms in P.E.I. schools — sometimes they require a key, sometimes youth are being asked to disclose their gender, or the washrooms are in an inaccessible area of the school. They said some students have been holding their urine and have experienced health issues because of it.

"I just think because our province is so small, we could really be at the forefront of this," Starkman said.

"I think it's really sad that we have to have these events but also I feel empowered in that more people are showing up to these events, and trying to learn and do better."

P.E.I. relatively safe place

"I feel relatively safe here on P.E.I. — while we do face transphobia on the Island, I don't generally think that I will be physically accosted on Prince Edward Island," Preston said, adding that when she travels out of province she brings someone with her because she believes most other cities in Canada are not safe for trans people.

Travis Kingdon/CBC
Travis Kingdon/CBC

Among the officials who spoke at the event was the director of student services with P.E.I.'s Public Schools Branch Terri MacAdam, who said the PSB recognizes there is still discrimination against trangender people and still work to be done.

Health Minister James Aylward said he was pleased to see many more people at the event than in previous years.

"We know that stigma still exists and that individuals are still being marginalized by society and this is truly unacceptable," Aylward said.

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