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Toronto trans memorial erased for the second time

‘It’s brutal and it’s very difficult to not see it as directly pointed at the trans community,’ says Nicki Ward

Nicki Ward, a trans woman who is one of the stewards of the memorial, stands outside its defaced appearance on Nov 9, 2017. Credit: PTP Video

“YOU WILL NOT ERASE US.”

That was the message that trans Torontonians wrote on the trans memorial in Barbara Hall Park in 2014 after it was washed off by city staff.

But the chalk memorial, which has been maintained for years by members of Toronto’s trans community, has once again been obliterated, this time by an outside crew hired by the City of Toronto to remove graffiti from the park.

On Nov 9, 2017, Nicki Ward, a trans woman who is one of the stewards of the memorial, was walking through the park when she noticed the defacement.

“It has deep, deep, deep meaning to many of us as the only place where these women’s names are actually recorded,” she says.

Ward, who is on the board of both The 519 community centre and the Church-Wellesley Neighbourhood Association, says she’s appalled that staff hired by the city could make the same mistake again.

“It’s heavy-handed, it’s brutal and it’s very difficult to not see it as directly pointed at the trans community,” Ward says.

“When trans women are killed, they die twice — once of course physically, and then when the family reclaims the body and their names are erased,” she says. “So the positioning of the trans memorial opposite the AIDS memorial is also very deliberate; many, many trans women died twice — first of AIDS and then of erasure.”

The trans memorial was created anonymously in 2014 during a vigil for Veronica Diaz, a trans woman who had died that year.

But soon after the memorial was created, it was erased by city staff on the day Cawthra Park was rechristened Barbara Hall Park.

At the time, Councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam said that it had been an accident and apologized on behalf of the city for the incident.

When Wong-Tam was alerted to the recent defacement by Xtra, she confirmed that it was an outside crew hired by the city that had done it.

“In meeting with senior Parks staff this late afternoon, it was determined that a crew from outside the neighbourhood had come into the park to remove graffiti and made the error of painting over the trans memorial,” she wrote in a statement. “This never should have happened, as we have worked with our local Parks maintenance staff to respect and preserve this space for the community.”

A photo of the trans memorial, taken in May 2017. Credit: Courtesy Melissa Hudson/Facebook

Wong-Tam reaffirmed her desire for a permanent trans memorial, something she has been pushing for since 2014.

Ward says that the stewards of the memorial have done considerable work to make sure this kind of mistake didn’t happen again, including getting the memorial onto Google Maps and making sure the department of parks, forestry and recreation knew about it.

“There’s no excuse,” she says. “Screw me once, shame on you. Screw me twice, shame on me.”

A spokesperson for the City of Toronto did not respond to Xtra by press time.

Update, Nov 10, 2017: A spokesperson from the City of Toronto’s parks, forestry and recreation department sent Xtra the following statement on Nov 10, 2017. 

The City of Toronto had a painting crew in Barbara Hall Park today to remove graffiti throughout the park. This crew does not normally work in Barbara Hall Park and are not familiar with the memorial and its history. However, our staff should have ensured the painting team knew about this memorial before they arrived, and this should not have happened.

Our staff will remove the paint as soon as possible so that the memorial can be restored. With the cold temperatures forecast for tomorrow, the paint will likely be removed on Monday. City staff have also reached out to Nicki Ward to apologize personally and to discuss what can be done to prevent this from happening again.

The City regrets that this happened and we apologize. We want to make this right and ensure there is a permanent solution, led by the community, that will prevent this from happening again.

This story is filed under Church-Wellesley Village, Trans, Neighbourhoods, City of Toronto, Toronto, News
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