“I can still taste the barrel in my mouth.”
Amanda Ryan, an Ottawa trans activist, was sending an instant message about Normal, the 2003 film starring Jessica Lange and Tom Wilkinson, whose character considers suicide after coming out as trans. Ryan asked her friend, a fellow trans woman, if she’d ever considered suicide. After a pause, her friend typed, “I can still taste the barrel in my mouth.”
As Ottawa joined cities around the world marking the Trans Day of Remembrance (TDOR) on Nov 20, Ryan said the despair and isolation many trans people suffer is never far from her mind. Even as human rights for trans people improve in Canada, we must remember we have a long way to go in combating transphobia, she says.
About 30 people gathered at the Human Rights Monument in downtown Ottawa to remember those trans people who lost their lives to murder and suicide in the past year. Activists held the first TDOR vigil in 1999 in San Francisco to honour Rita Hester, a trans woman who was murdered the previous year. Since then, TDOR ceremonies have spread across the US, Canada and around the world.
“It’s a chance for us to remember all the people who’ve been murdered in the past 12 months of a year, and the numbers are staggering,” Ryan said as she addressed the attendees during Ottawa’s candlelight vigil. “Depending on which website you look at, there’s 238, and we kept hearing about more people this morning.”
For Ryan, visibility, public education and support are crucial to stop transphobic violence. “The more we can be seen and visible, the more people will understand who we are,” she said.
Superintendent Paul Morneau, of the Ottawa Paramedic Service, attended the vigil, saying trans people need to know they have allies in the community.
“I think it’s important that we reach out to all members of the community and especially members of the community that are marginalized,” Morneau said. “Paramedics are a caring group of people, and we want the trans community to know that we also will care for them.”
On Nov 19, Ottawans took part in six flag-raising ceremonies to commemorate TDOR: at Ottawa City Hall, Gatineau City Hall, Ottawa Police Headquarters, Ottawa Paramedic Headquarters, Ottawa Fire Headquarters and Ottawa By-Law Headquarters.
Following the vigil, there was a community dinner at the Jack Purcell Community Centre.