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Police commemorate Trans Day of Remembrance

Activists say event heralds new era of cooperation

The banner at police headquarters. Credit: Laura Zahody
Organizers say the lack of dissent at the second annual Ottawa Police Service Trans Day of Remembrance flag and banner ceremony on Nov 18 shows that cooperation and understanding between the city’s trans community and the public at large, including police, is on the rise.
 
Last year’s event was controversial in part because of the history of police violence against trans people – trans sex workers in particular.
 
Staff Sergeant John Medeiros, the officer in charge of diversity and race relations for Ottawa Police Service, says there was nothing but support for this year’s event, held at police headquarters on Elgin St.
 
Medeiros worked closely with Amanda Ryan, of Ottawa’s Gender Mosaic, to organize the ceremony.
 
“The controversy disappeared as soon as we got together and started talking,” says Ryan, crediting work done by the Trans Day of Remembrance Organizational Committee, which was formed by Pink Triangle Services especially for this year’s event.
 
The committee included people from all sides of the debate.
 
Committee member Alex Thompson, 21, says he was recruited because he’s young and can offer a fresh perspective.
“What I felt was needed was to look for the hope,” he says. “It’s easier to see the negative than the positive.”
 
The committee agreed the theme for this year’s event would be “celebrate, educate and commemorate,” Ryan says.
An element of celebration is crucial, Thompson says, because it helps attract a wider demographic.
 
“Instead of being all political, let’s see what we can offer our community,” he says. “I don’t think that the younger youth want to go to a political event. That segregates the generations.”
 
About 75 people, including many young people, attended the standing-room-only gathering, which included speeches, the playing of Susan Boyle’s song “Who I Was Born to Be” and a moment of silence. 
 
“I’ve never even seen some members of the community,” Thompson says.
 
The event speakers, including Medeiros, Ryan, Thompson and Mayor Jim Watson, dropped a pink, blue and white banner at 6:35pm.
 
The banner read “Ottawa Police Service commemorates Trans Day of Remembrance.”
 
The number of similar Trans Day of Remembrance ceremonies grew from just one last year to four this year.
 
Both Ottawa and Gatineau city halls and Ottawa Paramedic Service participated. There are also plans for an event at Ottawa Fire Services headquarters next year, Ryan says.
 
“Four flag-raisings are showing that it’s not only a police thing. It’s a community thing. It’s the people together. It’s everybody together,” says Sophia Cassivi, president of Gender Mosaic.
 
Police want to use the annual event as an opportunity to build relationships with the trans community, says Chief Vern White.
 
“We have officers who aren’t working tonight, who came in specifically – although they may not have a relationship to the trans community – who came in specifically to be a part of this event,” White says.
 
In his speech, White said the relationship between police and the trans community isn’t yet what it should be.
 
The best way to improve relations between trans people and others – whether citizens, organizations or governments – is to promote education, says Thompson, adding that flag and banner ceremonies do this because they improve the community’s visibility.
 
Elsewhere, similar support is still limited and more controversial.
 
“I am not in support of the flag-raisings because of continued violence by police against trans people,” says Morgan Page, a community services coordinator for trans services at the 519 Church St Community Centre in Toronto. “But I need to stress that I am not in Ottawa. People in Ottawa are doing the best that they can in that political climate.”
 
Events held in police and government spaces can sometimes have the effect of polarizing the trans community, says Page.
 
“These events are supported by segments of the trans community who have middle-class values,” she says. “Some others, who are considerably more marginalized because they are sex workers, are made to feel unwelcome.”
 
Trans Day of Remembrance events should be held only in places where everyone feels safe, she says.
 
In her speech, Ryan said it was an honour to be hosted by the police.
 
“Last year, right here, the Ottawa Police Service unfurled the banner for the trans community,” she said. “That was the very first time in Canada that the trans community had been formally recognized by any official organization in Canada. That was a huge, huge milestone.”