Trans Issues
3 min

Remembering Julie Berman

A friend’s heartfelt tribute to the trans woman recently murdered in Toronto, and a personal plea for change

Toronto trans activist Julie Berman, and her friend Victoria Glencross Palmer
Credit: Courtesy Facebook and Victoria Glencross Palmer; Francesca Roh/Xtra

I met Julie Berman in the summer of 1995 when I was working as the receptionist at this publication, Xtra, in Toronto. She had come in on some personal business and we clicked. Love at first sight, if you will. We were both transsexual women and finding each other meant more to us than anything else at that time.

Soon after, I received a call from Julie. She explained that she had known who I was prior to coming in to the office, that she was really curious about talking to me as another trans woman and that she wanted me to come over for a visit. Well, isn’t that just the sweetest thing you’ve ever heard? I just about burst with glee. Of course I said yes, and off I went. Julie had prepared cheese and crackers for our first get together. It was a lovely visit and lasted well into the evening. I’m so grateful to have had that experience with Julie—it was the start of our lifelong relationship.

On Dec 22, 2019, the first night of Hanukkah, Julie Berman, my friend and loved one to many, was murdered in Toronto’s Annex neighbourhood. She was 51.

I’m going to try to remember Jules not as a victim of a violent crime but as a woman who was affectionate and gentle and who always made you feel special. You would often find Julie visiting the Baycrest Centre, a retirement facility in Toronto, looking after her Bubbie’s hair. Washing, setting, styling, doing her nails. (Her Bubbie died a few years ago.) Julie had another Bubbie, who is an unbelievable 100 years old, whom she loved and kept in touch with. Family was very important to Julie—she talked often about her own. She had deep affection for her mother and enormous respect and love for her brother. Julie always turned to her family for support and her family offered an endless supply of it, which extended across the whole family: The partner of Julie’s mother’s, as well as an aunt (who actually read the eulogy at Julie’s funeral). That aunt was often a huge source of support for Julie, and Julie would have been deep-down very grateful for her words.

Julie was a fearless, motivated self-starter. She went to school as a mature student to study hair design. She started accepting clients in her home, cutting, colouring and practicing her craft; she was excellent at it. Julie genuinely loved working as a hairstylist, and was always brutally honest: If she didn’t like your hair, she told you straight-up! Like it or lump it. That was Jules!

Julie took the rights of transgender individuals very seriously. You would often see her at Meal Trans events, a drop-in program for lower income trans folk, and other support groups. She was incredibly supportive of trans girls and all individuals in the transgender community. Julie believed in “live and let live.” She welcomed all to the community. She insisted that there was absolutely no need for any form of discrimination; she had little tolerance for closed-mindedness. She challenged transphobia, particularity face-to-face. She had to react. Losing Julie Berman is a huge loss for the transgender community.

One thing both Julie and I struggled with, along with all transgender people around the world, is violence and transphobia. This is real. Julie was murdered. My sisters and brothers are being murdered. Please open your eyes. Transphobia is real. I know story after story of abuse and victimization and more abuse. Yes, times are changing. Yes, boys are even starting to wear makeup. This is all very exciting and forward-moving but we must be vigilant and always be mindful of the hostility that still exists, even on our Toronto streets.

When I think about how my best friend died, it makes me feel really scared. My inner safety is threatened. Julie would understand. We often shared very similar feelings. Since her death, I’ve been having my sister sleepover some nights because it’s hard to be alone with my thoughts and feelings.

Julie and I often coped together through humour and laughter, spending the days just laughing off the ridiculousness of it all. Sometimes it hurt. Sometimes it hurt so badly it was hard to get out of bed. But together we were okay. Sometimes we got angry and needed a release. We’d gab for hours about issues or how it felt to be verbally and physically attacked—a commonality among many transgender people.

Julie’s mother designed a gorgeous backyard zen garden that Julie just adored to spend time in when she visited. She felt safe and would sit and think and just be quiet. What a lovely image of Julie. It is with great sadness—a sadness I haven’t felt before—that I ask us all to remember Julie, for all the bereaved and for all who mourn her. I ask that next time you see someone who is different, transgender or any minority, that you think of Julie’s murder and remember the violence affecting the transgender community stops with you.