Community members said goodbye to local activist and community leader Kyle Scanlon in a touching public memorial Thursday, July 19. Scanlon committed suicide on July 3.
“Kyle changed people’s lives,” said Morgan Page. The event, which Page helped organize, was held in Cawthra Park at the 519 Church St Community Centre. Dozens of people gathered to grieve, share stories and listen to heartfelt speeches from Scanlon’s closest friends and colleagues.
“The community is mourning for one of its best activists, advocates and friends,” Athena Brown told the crowd. The ceremony included a candlelight vigil, during which the crowd joined together to sing songs, including one by the Indigo Girls, Scanlon’s favourite group.
A fixture at The 519 for the past decade, Scanlon worked most recently as the organization’s research, education and training consultant. Previously, he served as its trans community services coordinator. In both roles, he was instrumental in creating programs and services that profoundly benefit the trans community.
It was critically important to Scanlon that trans people always have a place to find support. In 2000, he took over facilitating The 519’s FTM support group when its previous facilitators were unable to continue. Rupert Raj remembers: “He was like a guardian angel . . . he was a beacon of hope. He made time for people; he went the extra mile and beyond.”
A subject very near to Scanlon’s heart was the prevention of suicide and depression in the queer community. In 2001, he made Canadian history as the first trans man ever to serve as executive director of a queer agency: the LGBT Youth Line. In fact, it was Scanlon’s idea to add the “T” to the “LGB” in the agency’s name, to ensure that young trans youth could rely on the Youth Line to listen and provide critical emotional support in times of need. A statement on Youth Line’s website reads, “We will remember Kyle as a warm and generous human being, and a role model to all of us.”
As leader of The 519’s Trans Access Project (established in 2001), Scanlon taught local trans people important job skills, then worked with them through Project Open Door to facilitate training workshops for Toronto service providers. To date, the team has trained more than 8,000 service providers and set up trans-access policies at 25 shelters. Due to Scanlon’s work, trans people now have greater access to desperately needed services such as shelter, addictions services, counselling, healthcare and refugee settlement services.
“He always made it very easy [for providers] to be inclusive,” says Stefonknee Wolscht, a colleague in the Trans Access Project. Scanlon shared with her his secret for getting the general public to understand trans issues. “He was always diplomatic . . . He taught me that if you go gently [as opposed to] like a bull in a china shop . . . you will be able to get them to appreciate your vantage point more easily.”
Before working at The 519, Scanlon was a staff member at Pink Triangle Press, Xtra’s publisher. Tera Mallette, who worked with Scanlon at PTP, says he was always patient, soft-spoken and friendly, even when the two didn’t see eye to eye. “We didn’t always agree, [but] we could always have a very cogent, articulate conversation about whatever we were disagreeing about.” Mallette echoes an oft-shared sentiment about Scanlon, that he was known for his open heart and friendly disposition. “He always had a smile on hand,” she says.
In 2004, Scanlon was instrumental in founding the Trans Pulse Project. Through community engagement, Trans Pulse has produced critical research data that demonstrates the need (and therefore helps secure funding) for accessible healthcare services across the province.
In 2011, Trans Pulse reported that 77 percent of Ontario trans people have considered suicide, and 43 percent had actually attempted it. That work, to which Scanlon contributed heavily, will lead to more help for trans people battling depression, the same force that claimed Scanlon’s life.
Scanlon’s gentle and caring nature was reflected in his affection for animals. At his memorial, screens showed dozens of photos of a smiling Scanlon petting animals in exotic locales around the world – he was also known for his love of travel. At home, Scanlon cared for his pet cats, the last of which passed away shortly before his death.
Scanlon is survived by his father, a brother, close friends and a community that is better for his having been a part of it.