A crowd of approximately 100 people gathered Nov 20 at the Carnegie Community Centre in the Downtown Eastside to commemorate the 226 trans people killed worldwide in the last 12 months, according to Transgender Europe’s monitoring project.
Attendees at Vancouver’s Transgender Day of Remembrance read out slips of paper with the name, age, location and cause of death of each of the deceased. “I was slaughtered, beaten and stoned, and my corpse was found half buried in a landfill,” one participant read.
“I was 14. I received death threats before I was murdered,” read another.
Earlier in the day, gay Vancouver-West End MLA Spencer Chandra Herbert reintroduced the Gender Identity and Expression Human Rights Recognition Act, a bill that would explicitly protect trans and gender-variant British Columbians, he says. It’s the third time he has attempted to persuade the government to adopt the bill, having introduced it in 2009 and again in 2011.
“This bill, if passed, will help ensure every trans person in BC knows the law is on their side, and push businesses, governments, and our school system to stand up for trans people’s rights and equality,” he told Xtra in an email after returning from Victoria. “It will also help ensure our judges have no doubts that the law must protect and support trans people’s equality and freedom to be who they are without fear.”
While trans people are already protected from discrimination on the basis of sex in the BC Human Rights Code, explicitly incorporating gender identity and expression would help them enforce their rights, says Adrienne Smith, a health and drug policy lawyer at Pivot Legal Society, who attended the memorial.
Smith, who is transgender and genderqueer (and uses the gender-neutral pronoun they), says trans people face disproportionate amounts of discrimination and poverty.
Tami Starlight, the founder and organizer of Vancouver’s Trans Day of Remembrance, says the goal of the ceremony is to focus on why and where specific trans people were murdered before further addressing the needs of the trans community.
Maps indicating where violence against trans people has occurred were displayed at the event. The most common targets were black or Latina transwomen from the Americas.
Attendees watched two short documentaries about the murders of trans people in the early 2000s, then sat solemnly for more than an hour as each murdered trans person from the past year was acknowledged.
Smith is shocked by the violent methods used to kill trans people. “The efforts to obliterate the body, to obliterate the identity of trans people, is particularly heartbreaking,” they say. “Often the violence is sexualized in profoundly disturbing ways. People are raped before they die, they are raped after they are murdered, they are raped with foreign objects . . . It happens so often that it’s normalized.”
Starlight also spoke of Leslie Feinberg, the transgender activist who died earlier this week from tick-borne infections. Feinberg received treatment approximately 30 years after becoming infected with Lyme disease, which Feinberg maintained was an example of the prejudice toward transgender people in healthcare systems.
“In addition to remembering quietly, today is a really important day to talk about what we’re going to do in the coming year to make the world better for trans people,” Smith says. “And that’s not the job of trans people; that’s the job of all of us.”