“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.”
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.