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November is trans month

Four important local events scheduled

A LIST OF NEEDS. A Nov 21 meeting of the trans community aims to develop an official list of what local trans people need, says local activists Shannon Blatt and Jessica Freedman. Credit: Pat Croteau

It is no secret that trans people have struggled rigorously for equality, like other distinct groups, in both their local and national context. Ottawa’s trans community may be small in numbers but it is big in spirit.

There are four key upcoming events in the trans community that are helping to make the community more unified and visible to the rest of the population.

Trans Day of Remembrance, this year the fourth annual event, is Nov 20. This tradition began in 1999 with a candlelight vigil honouring the death of Rita Hester in San Francisco. Since then, the website and forum www.rememberingourdead.org has gathered the names of trans people who are victims of hate crimes that the media have reported on. Despite their vigilance, it is unknown how many trans people are killed each year.

The candlelight vigil has been held annually since 2003 in Ottawa, with numbers growing each year.

“It’s time to bring awareness to the fact that trans deaths are grossly underreported,” says organizer Shannon Blatt.

Blatt was verbally assaulted by a man at the corner of Bank and Somerset streets in 2003 when she was walking to her car. “He read me, and then just came at me yelling and screaming, making a big scene. I was terrified,” says Blatt.

The man screamed obscenities and pounded on her window, and it was thanks to her locked doors that she went home unharmed.

“We need to recognize the violence that has been inflicted on our community, and the lack of recognition we get. We are treated as invisible and disposable people,” says Blatt.

Trans activist Jessica Freedman says the Ottawa community is different than the one she came out in four years ago, but there is much work to be done.

Freedman says the trans community has very high suicide, self-mutilation and substance abuse rates.

“These problems are common to trans people because they are highly marginalized,” says Freedman.

The ceremony will begin with a candlelight vigil at the Human Rights Monument on Elgin St, followed by a gathering in the councillor’s lounge at City Hall. Present will be city councillors, deputy police chief Larry Hill, and members of the trans community. Artists, including Mackenzie MacBride, will be performing.

There are other events planned for November. Ottawa’s first Trans March for Equality takes place Sun, Nov 19. The plan is to start at the Human Rights Monument on Elgin (at 2pm), the same place that the Dyke March started during Capital Pride, and finish at the eternal flame on Parliament Hill.

There is a shared feeling of marginalization among those in the trans community, so this march is about visibility, say organizers.

“We want to take back the day,” says Blatt. Both she and Freedman felt that from the moment they knew they were trans, or “different” as they describe it, they felt the need to hide. And although context has changed in recent years, the struggle for integration remains the same for many trans people.

All trans people and their allies are welcome to march.

The trans community is also unifying its administrative side with the trans advisory committee and trans community consultation input to the developing community centre.

There are five people on the advisory committee, chaired by Blatt. All members were recently appointed at the last board meeting.

“They advise the board of directors of the community centre and provide information and support for the needs of trans people in their city,” says head of the board James Bromilow.

The first meeting of the committee will be Nov 8 at Pink Triangle Services.

The Trans Community Consultation takes place Nov 21 at PTS from 7 to 9 p.m. Trans people are invited to this discussion about the community’s needs. The goal is to create an official paper document outlining what local trans people need from the community.

“It provides a unifying forum for the community,” says Freedman, who is also a committee member. “It’s a formal space to work toward those common goals we have.”