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Trans activists clash over flag raising at Toronto City Hall

Concerns raised about speakers and new flag at Transgender Day of Remembrance

A group of activists are concerned that the Toronto Trans Alliance, which organized the first flag raising at Toronto City Hall for the Transgender Day of Remembrance, isn’t properly representing the whole trans community. Credit: Facebook

A small group of activists is clashing with the organizers of the first ever raising of a trans flag at Toronto City Hall.

To mark the Transgender Day of Remembrance (TDoR), the Toronto Trans Alliance (TTA) — a group formed earlier this year to advocate for trans issues — organized the flag raising to take place outside of Toronto City Hall on Nov 20. The ceremony will include a number of speakers from the trans community, as well as two cisgender speakers. Mayor-elect John Tory is also confirmed to attend.

Boyd Kodak, a member of TTA’s steering committee, says the event came together after weeks of consultations with members of the trans community, including meetings and online polls run via Facebook.

But Abuzar Chaudhary doesn’t feel that the TTA’s event properly represents the entire trans community. She is one of a small number of activists who have raised concerns about the event. She has planned a protest that will take place at the flag raising and is one of the signatories of a protest letter sent to several local politicians.

The activists have raised concerns about the two cisgender speakers — Barbara Hall, the chief commissioner of the Ontario Human Rights Commission, and Cheri DiNovo, the NDP MPP for Parkdale–High Park — speaking at an event meant to remember deceased transgender people. “A lot of the violence is racialized violence, so it disproportionately affects trans women of colour,” Chaudhary says. In the letter sent to politicians, the activists write that they believe the voices of trans women of colour should be front and centre at TDoR ceremonies.

Kodak says that the TTA had considered whether it was appropriate to include cisgender speakers but through consultation decided that it was important to have politicians address the community at an event specifically for trans people. “The group felt as long as we had at least 80 percent of the program being trans run . . . then that was sufficient,” he says. “And indeed, they did want to hear from some of these prominent dignitaries.”

Some of the controversy concerns the flag that will be raised. As part of their community consultations, the TTA held a vote to choose the flag that would be used at the ceremony, including new designs. “There are some people that felt that the flags didn’t properly define them any longer,” Kodak says, noting that people who have non-binary identities didn’t feel included in the most well-known flag.

A kaleidoscope-coloured flag was chosen over the international trans flag and several other designs in a poll posted to TTA’s closed Facebook group and at polling stations throughout Toronto.

Kodak says that the new flag was chosen by a majority consensus and that the other flags will still be represented at the ceremony. However, the activists allege that voting in a closed Facebook group doesn’t reflect legitimate community consultations.

“It’s basically a TTA flag; it’s not really a trans flag,” Chaudhary says. “Because the trans community has never agreed that this would be a wider symbol that represents all of us.” Two posts on the TTA public Facebook page indicate that several posts in the closed Facebook group were deleted because the commenters had attacked other members. Kodak told Xtra that the TTA has a multistep disciplinary process in place for violations of its principles that take place online. Kodak adds that the group also had a public consultation on Nov 8 at the Sherbourne Health Centre.

In their letter, the activists outline a number of other concerns, including allegations that the TTA has not properly considered intersectionality in organizing the flag raising at city hall and that the TTA has held closed-door meetings, an allegation Kodak denies.

The letter was also sent to the City of Toronto’s protocol office. A representative from the protocol office told Xtra after reviewing the letter they had determined that the TTA’s request met the city’s criteria and the event would proceed as scheduled.

While the TTA does not deny the activists’ right to protest the flag raising, Kodak is sad that it is happening.

“It’s so heartbreaking to think that anyone, for whatever motivation, would do anything on such an importantly symbolic day in our history to cause any kind of disruption,” Kodak says, adding that the activists are still welcome to come talk to the TTA about their concerns.

For Chaudhary, mounting this protest has been a personal struggle. “[We’re] just doing it because it has to be done,” she told Xtra by email after speaking on the phone. “Or else [TTA] might end up selling themselves as representatives of the entire community.”