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Marching for trans rights

Grassroots event gets pulled under Pride umbrella

“Everybody knows that trans people, throughout Pride and the weekend, we’re all over the place,” says Diane Grant, coorganizer of Toronto’s first Trans Pride March. “We wanted a more concrete show of just how many of us there are.”

The march, organized by Grant with her wife Karah Mathiason, is set to take place Fri, Jun 26 beginning at 8pm.

“It could be loud or quiet and thoughtful or whatever,” says Grant, 52, a male-to-female transsexual lesbian. “We’re leaving it wide open for people to express whatever they want to express, and it’s evolving. I’m thinking there may be more banners and signs than we originally anticipated.”

The march was conceived as an unofficial event but according to Grant, Pride Toronto recently asked the organizers to get a permit for the event.

“They seemed to be mostly concerned that, since they had the rights to Church St [via the street closure], that we had to do it with their cooperation,” says Grant.

“I know that there are reasons they have,” she adds. “They’re concerned about who’s on the street that they’re responsible for, safety issues and stuff like that, but I mean considering we just basically wanted to go as a peaceful group from Bloor down to Carlton, just being as a group together… for myself [I] feel like we’re being a little bit restricted by their needs.”

Although Grant and Mathiason have secured a permit and will be meeting with Pride Toronto to discuss what the Trans Pride March will look like as an official Pride event, Grant notes there should be room to march without getting the okay first.

“What we’re doing does have a lot to do with raising awareness that we’re there and trying to raise awareness with our lack of protection under the human rights code,” she says. “When other groups have done this sort of thing, when any group marches for rights, sometimes they just march as opposed to asking permission.

“Neither of us wants to alienate the Pride committee and get them upset with us, but any group that marches for their rights, sometimes permits don’t happen. I’ve been involved with OCAP [the Ontario Coalition Against Poverty] and they don’t always get permits to march. We’re not trying to disrupt what’s happening that night, so it seems a little more complicated than it needs to be.”

Pride also proposed a slight route change for the march. Originally the plan was to march down Church St from Bloor to Carlton, but Grant says Pride Toronto requested the march end at Wellesley instead to accommodate preexisting road closures and the Pride stage setup that will be taking place that night. Grant says Pride Toronto is offering to host and cater an afterparty for the participants at the 519 Community Centre.

“They’ve said that doing something like [a trans march] is a good idea but nobody got around to it,” says Grant, “so they do want to make us an official part of Pride, and perhaps by doing this they feel that solidifies it and that feels good.”

Tracey Sandilands, executive director of Pride Toronto, says she’s not ready to talk about the event yet.

“The march is still in the early stages of organization and we are meeting with the coordinators later this week to discuss arrangements,” writes Sandilands by email.

Grant says the separate march, which she hopes will attract between 300 and 500 participants, will draw attention to trans issues, like the lack of explicit protection from discrimination under the Ontario Human Rights Code. Discrimination against trans people is handled through the protection from discrimination based on sex; gender identity isn’t a category of its own in the Code.

“I have protection as a gay woman under the human rights code,” says Grant, “and Karah and I are married so we do in that regard and we do as human beings. But I’m not protected as a trans person.”

The event will also create more space at Pride that is explicitly trans-friendly, says Grant. “At times we don’t feel totally welcome in the other parades,” she says. “Depending on the political situation from year to year, who’s in charge of what parade, it can be confusing as to who’s welcome and who’s not.”

While she’s marched in Sunday’s Pride Parade with various groups and joined the Saturday Dyke March for seven or eight years without any problem Grant says that, “In the first year of the Saturday march it was very clear that we were not welcome.”

Grant adds that regardless of any official position of inclusion from organizers, feeling welcome at Pride as a trans person depends largely on the response of the other participants.

Grant says she doesn’t see the Trans Pride March as divisive or separatist — just an additional option.

“I am aware this could be looked at as a fragmenting of the weekend,” she says, “but I know that when the women’s march started on Saturday, it resulted in Pride being a weekend instead of just a one-day festival.

“We don’t look at the march as being a confrontation,” she adds, citing possible economic benefits of adding another march to the existing Pride activities. “We intend to party the rest of the weekend with everybody else. This will just add something extra.”

Grant says that anyone who is supportive of trans people is welcome to participate in the Trans Pride March. “Anybody who falls under the trans umbrella is welcome and their friends and their families. Karah originally wanted it to be all-inclusive, so if you’re guilty by association, come march with us.”