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About 100 turn out for Vancouver Transgender Day of Remembrance

'We've come a long way, but there's a long way to go': march participant

About 100 transgender people and their allies gathered to honour lives lost to hate-crime violence at the 13th annual Vancouver Transgender Day of Remembrance on Nov 20.

The event, which is marked globally, is a yearly testament to the struggles transgender and two-spirited people face in their fight for freedom of self-expression and social and political acceptance.

“We stand in solidarity. We are really fortunate in Canada that we don’t experience the same kinds of violence and discrimination that other transgender individuals throughout the world do,” says Lisa Salazar, who handed out placards to rally participants. “There’s so much anger and bitterness directed toward transgender people because they’re considered strange or odd, or whatever their excuse might be, and they’re attacked,” she says.

While many queers have struggled for their lives to be recognized and respected, transgender people have had an exceptionally difficult time with their coming out, Salazar contends.

“The moment that you come out, if you’re gay, lesbian or bisexual, basically you can get on with your life,” the 61-year-old trans woman notes. Not so for the transgender community, she says, adding “we’ve come a long way, but there’s a long way to go.” 

There’s room for a lot more progress, agrees Dita Brown, a trans woman who attended the rally with her partner, Roberta McPhail. “We should be accepted as the third gender,” Brown says.

Attending the Transgender Day of Remembrance helps them feel connected to a powerful collective, the couple says. “Being relatively new to the transgender community, I wanted to come out and support it,” McPhail adds.

“I enjoy the solidarity in being transgender because it is a hard life for some of us, and being together is good. It feels good.”

For McPhail and Brown, the memorial is also a powerful reminder of the violence that continues to afflict transgender people globally. “We’re also taking an opportunity to pause and reflect on those who have been hurt or killed due to hate crimes, and that’s really what this is all about,” McPhail says.

Participants gathered outside Carnegie Community Centre at the intersection of Main and E Hastings streets before proceeding to march through the Downtown Eastside during the evening rush hour. The large group held placards with such slogans as “I am proud 2 B Trans” and “Equality and Freedom,” while repeatedly chanting, “Hey, hey, ho, ho, homophobia has got to go.”

The march concluded at the Simon Fraser University campus, where event organizer Tami Starlight called on participants to remember those who have lost their lives and urged people to stay strong.

At one point in the evening, Starlight handed out flashcards, each one representing a transgender person who had been murdered this year. The cards bore photos of the deceased and included their date of death and the reason they died. Starlight asked participants to read the information in the first person. While some people wept, others simply clung to friends next to them.

Rally participant and city transit worker George Tomlinson believes things are progressing in Vancouver. Tomlinson, who is gay, says his bus drivers’ Canadian Auto Workers (CAW) union local has begun to acknowledge trans and other queer people in the language contained in its collective agreement. He says also that employees are provided with booklets and pamphlets to help educate them about queer and trans employee issues.

Education, societal acceptance and trans awareness are key to ending violence against trans people, agrees trans woman Danielle Macdonell. “I think mentalities do change, but it’s a process,” she adds.

“I found that this was a need for us,” says Starlight when asked why she initiated Vancouver’s participation in the event. “I felt that the community could benefit, and I really think it has.”

While the main premise of the day is to pay respects to trans people who have been murdered, the event also recognizes trans people who have committed suicide because of homophobia, Starlight notes.

“It is a place where we can come together in solidarity,” she says, adding that the trans community has a reputation for not being as proactive as it could be.

“I don’t think we have enough unity in our community,” Starlight observes. She says she hopes to bring the community together more by launching a new, local, trans-focused community organization in the coming year.