Approximately 82 trans people and their allies rallied in front of New Westminster’s city hall and courthouse on Jan 5 to demand justice for January Marie Lapuz, who was fatally stabbed in her New Westminster home on Sept 29.
“We will miss January,” Parveen Khtaria, of Sher Vancouver, told the crowd. “Many of us who have known her remember her crazy personality, extreme amount of energy, openness and loving for everyone. We don’t have that anymore, so we’d like to always remember the face of her, remember her personality and kind of keep that memory going.”
Leada Stray, who co-organized the rally with the Transtastic Coalition for Equality, said that Lapuz’s death broke their silence and prompted them to speak up for transgender equality.
“It’s been too long since we’ve sat in the back corner,” they said (Stray prefers the non-gender-specific pronoun “they”). “It’s been too long that we’ve accepted injustice, humiliation, degradation based solely on the lack of education on our community and our lifestyle. I say no more! We’ve stood in silence for far too long. For me, the death of January Marie Lapuz was the breaking point in my silence. It’s horrific that it took the murder of someone so beautiful, so strong, to break that silence. But now that it’s broken, let me tell you that I’m not about to shut up.”
New Westminster Councillor Jaimie McEvoy echoed American Vice-President Joe Biden when he described the struggle for transgender equality as the “civil rights issues of our time.”
“The vulnerabilities in our society that many trans people experience is a direct result of a long history of discrimination,” McEvoy told the crowd. “That vulnerability in this case resulted in the loss of a life. And that vulnerability at its core root is an issue of people’s participation and access in society, free of barriers and treated equally before the law. I thought it was important today to show solidarity.”
The rally began with a message of support made by Sandra Laframboise on behalf of Rhonda Larrabee, who is chief of the Qayqayt First Nation, previously known as the New Westminster First Nation. “So welcome, on behalf of Chief Rhonda Larrabee to this gathering for Ms Lapuz,” said Laframboise, who followed her greeting with a prayer and a smudge. “It’s very important for me to have done so as a First Nations person. These are their traditional territories and they support two-spirit people, and publicly.”
Tory Inglis expressed frustration over the fact that these rallies are still necessary. “I’m reeling at the fact that a country that calls itself an LGBT rights leader doesn’t have the ‘T’ in rights,” he said. “It is devastating that we had to lose such an amazing person as January Marie Lapuz.”
Inglis called for more education about trans people and denounced the police for using the wrong name and pronoun when first announcing Lapuz’s death.
“It is enraging that the police officials who announced January Marie Lapuz’s murder used her wrong name and her wrong pronoun,” he said. “She had her legal name changed. Police officials should be taught sensitivity in dealing with trans people. And not only taught it, but use it.”
Lukas Walther, the former coordinator of Vancouver Coastal Health’s Transgender Health Program, said that Lapuz’s death underscored the importance of survival, health and wellness in the transgender community.
“Many of us have been traumatized and access to healing is not very easy, and I just really see this as an opportunity for us to remember and keep really close to our hearts what’s really important. It’s keeping each other on the planet and having each other’s backs and walking beside each other,” he said.
The rally concluded with a vigil outside the courthouse in which participants, including New Westminster police officers, lit candles in memory of Lapuz. Before the gathering dispersed, Stray called upon policymakers to continue their conversations with the transgender community.
“The struggles that people like January face are too vast to not talk about, and I personally might not be able to talk about them from experience, but I’m damn sure going to give a voice to anybody who can,” they said. “So to the representatives of the government, the city councils, the police services, the social organizations, and the institutions that are here, I hope that you’ve been listening. The conversation is started. Let’s not let it stop.”
Stray said that a group of trans people and allies plan to attend Charles Jameson “Jamie” Mungo Neel’s bail hearing, scheduled for Monday, Jan 7 at 9:30am at the New Westminster courthouse. Neel was arrested in December and charged with murdering Lapuz.