3 min

Standing alone

Tami Starlight challenges trans people to take it on

Credit: Xtra West files

Tami Starlight says “divine intervention by my creator” is the reason she survived life on the streets at Main and Hastings to become an activist on the national front. But frustration with the lack of activism in the local trans community has led her to re-focus her networking on activists across the country.

“I’m not proud of the BC trans community. As a matter of fact, I’m not really that proud of the Canadian trans community,” she says. Starlight works essentially alone, locally. “I do it because my spirit tells me to and it’s the right thing to do.”

Trans people will attend events, she notes, but there are few who will help organize them. Starlight is currently organizing Vancouver’s third annual Transgender Day of Remembrance almost single-handedly. The internationally recognized day is meant to remember all the people killed by transphobic violence around the world in the last year.

Last November, organizers compiled a list of 38 known fatal trans-bashings; this year’s list contains 19 names so far.

Roughly 50 people attended the first Remembrance Day, she says, and closer to 100 trans people and allies attended the second. “We’re meeting in front of the Carnegie Centre. It just seems to be the place to go: Main and Hastings with so many stigmatized people, marginalized, abused, sex trade workers, the odd trans sex trade worker that’ll be walking by-that’s where we need to be,” she says. An SFU downtown theatre is booked for speakers.

Starlight brought her local work to a national stage in March, when she joined the board of Canada’s national gay lobby group, Egale. “I get to push for trans rights nationally instead of just sitting here, going: ‘where is everybody?’ I’m really happy to finally branch out and find the people like myself in every province. I’m very pro-active on the trans stuff,” she says.

Egale still doesn’t have much of a trans presence, she notes, but she’s working hard to change that. One of her visions is a Canadian organization for trans people. “It’s about time we had some fucking unity in this community!

“In what other community do people come to get support, transition and then disappear?” Starlight muses. “We want to become members of the gender that we believe we are and then just become invisible.

“It’s like you’re drawing from the well all the time and not putting anything back in. Activists are burning out.”

Yet the fear of retribution from family and friends is real. “Their partner might not even know. Some post-op[erative] women had such successful surgery and transition that their partners don’t even know and if they found out, that would be the end of their relationship,” she points out.

Starlight says surgery has been the main issue for many trans people since the closure of Vancouver’s Centre for Sexuality and Reproductive Health, aka the gender clinic. Government health care cuts two years ago shut it down, she says, and there’s nothing really to replace it. “Trans people have access to nothing in BC or nationally. There’s a very uneven balance in health care, only two or three provinces cover trans health care and one is Alberta.”

Born in Edmonton, Starlight, who is part Cree, had a difficult adolescence. “Since I was seven years old I’ve had gender identity issues,” she says. “Growing up was difficult because I was so effeminate.” When she finally reached adolescence, “my family started to call me names and get more serious. And then, when I got old enough to get beat up, I got beat up by my brother. That’s what happens when you challenge the constructs of masculinity. I don’t talk to my family. They’re not in my life at all.”

She has been substance-free for six years now. Four years ago, she started her transition and now she feels she’s come full circle. “I lived on the streets, I sold dope, I shot up drugs, I saw all kinds of death on Main and Hastings. I lived down there for many years and I made it out alive.”

Starlight is also the founder of Trans Awareness Week in Canada and in her spare time, the 39-year-old volunteers at AIDS Vancouver. She’s also looking forward to working with Women Against Violence Against Women (WAVAW) once her on-going training is complete.

Starlight’s activism was a struggle in the beginning but “I believe there will be more people in the trans community who will work with me and come together for the betterment of the community.

“Diversity is our strength. I believe it. I’m kind of the reluctant hero,” she blushes. “I’m proud of what I do and wish more people would be active.”


Transgender Day of Rememberance.

Nov 20, 1:30 pm.

Carnegie Centre.