Shandi Strong has watched everyone, from her community to the police, fail to treat transgender people with basic human respect.
“I could list a dozen friends that are trans who are routinely hassled in public, insulted or hassled on the bus, misgendered intentionally to make them angry or upset,” Strong says. “That’s something we need to learn as people, is to learn to respect people properly.”
For that reason, as well as having transitioned herself, she became the head organizer for the Trans Day of Remembrance, a vigil where the LGBTQ+ community comes together with allies and friends to honor the trans lives that were lost in 2016.
This year’s vigil was held at the University of Winnipeg on Nov 20. The vigil involved speeches from various members of the community and a reading of the names of the 295 transgender people who died over the last year.
Strong notes that none of these murders happened in Canada. “Remember though, for every human rights victory that we have earned here, there was an atrocity that had to be overcome. We are learning that our own history is not so pristine.”
The task of reading the names, ages, date of death and location of death of each person can be quite emotional and is shared by a group of both trans people and their allies. This year, readers included Mandy Fraser, Veronica Gingles, Lara Rae, Rhiannon Frost, Charlie Primeau, Tannis Cherewan, Maybelle Darling and Cynthia Fortlage.
“We have to remember that for every hater out there, there are allies beside us,” Strong says.
Logan Oxenham, a member of the transgender community who was scheduled to speak at the event, says trans lives are often ignored and diminished, even before they die, and this is a way to give those lives the respect they deserve.
“Often, trans lives are erased and forgotten about,” Oxenham says. “They’re erased before their lives are erased from the planet sometimes. It’s just to ensure that their lives are known and they did exist.”
Oxenham’s statement was read at the vigil by Michael McCallum, as Oxenham wasn’t able to attend: “One way we can honour those lives taken is to be sure those lives weren’t taken in vain. We must continue to advocate for our basic human rights, we must give a voice to those whose voices were taken away.”
The Canadian Criminal Code and Human Rights Act doesn’t calculate gender identity into its hate crime statistics, which means the public and advocacy groups have no way of knowing exactly how many transgender people have been killed due to prejudice. There are statistics for other aspects of a hate crime, including race and sex.
Strong says trans lives aren’t taken seriously by the law or by the public.
“All too often, when a trans person is murdered, people are all too quick to say ‘oh they were a hooker, or it was this or that,’” Strong says. “These are people with families and feelings … A lot of people don’t care enough to look into it. If (it was) a white cis person … ‘we’ll look into that right away.’”
“We’re often the victim of, ‘oh yeah, we’ll look into it when we have time.’”
The 295 transgender people honoured at the vigil were murdered from Oct. 1, 2015 to Sept. 30, 2016, according to Transgender Europe’s Trans Murder Monitoring (TMM) research project. The majority of these murders happen in Brazil, Mexico and the United States. A press release notes these are just the deaths that were discovered by the organization. Most countries do not produce data on murdered trans and gender diverse people, and the real number of deaths is likely much higher.
Oxenham says that in order for trans lives to be protected, allies of the LGBTQ+ community need to come forward and support their transgender friends and family.
“Those folks who call themselves allies of the LGBTQ+ community, I challenge them to stand by their words of allyship. I challenge them to do something,” Oxenham says. “Tweeting about your disgust is one thing, but actually standing by your trans community members, and giving them an opportunity to speak, is really important.”
Published in Volume 71, Number 12 of The Uniter (November 24, 2016)