Contrasting views regarding how Vancouverites should commemorate the annual Transgender Day of Remembrance Nov 20 have led to a split between organizers of this year’s event.
Tami Starlight, who for years has organized a ceremony in the Downtown Eastside, says she wasn’t planning to hold one this year but jumped at the opportunity to help organize a similar event for students at the University of British Columbia (UBC), when organizers approached her two weeks ago.
Now Starlight has backed out, citing “political and organizational differences” about how she feels the event should be run.
“It became all about the social-climbing academic show,” Starlight claims, “and that’s not genuine at all.”
Starlight particularly objected to incorporating public speakers and talking sessions into the event. “When you leave it open to public speakers it becomes a platform for political opinion,” she says.
But Pride UBC co-chair Bobby-Joe Greenberg says that while the event will include public speakers, it will also maintain the theme of memorializing transgender individuals who have been victims of hate crimes.
Like at Starlight’s annual ceremonies, Greenberg says a list of the deceased will be acknowledged, though their names won’t be read aloud.
“We aren’t individually reading out names,” Greenberg says. “We see that as somewhat problematic and somewhat appropriative.
“If people want to read out the names, they can go to the downtown event,” Greenberg adds.
Starlight believes that reading aloud the names and biographies of murdered trans people helps participants personally identify with individuals who were targeted for their gender identity.
It’s a way to identify and honour victims of transphobia, she says.
“Who wouldn’t want to give a voice to these people?” she wonders. “It is a powerful thing.”
Despite their disagreement over how the gatherings should unfold, both parties say they want to raise awareness of transphobia through their events.
“The fact is that we aren’t trying to compete with the Vancouver Transgender Day of Remembrance Society,” Greenberg says. “We hold the event for UBC. We have a pretty large trans community at UBC.
“We’re not trying to downplay what’s happening to trans people,” Greenberg continues. “We do memorialize trans people who have been murdered and lost to suicide, but we also have a commitment to recognizing the positive things that are happening in the trans community.”
“Pride was just trying to create a safe space,” Greenberg says. “I am disappointed and I don’t think it needed to be so fragmented. It really should be about coming together and memorializing those that have passed on and those that feel discriminated against on a daily basis. It really is unfortunate this happened.”
Starlight says she, too, wants the best for the event. “I would like to collaborate with other people. I come with good intentions,” she says. “At the end of the day I didn’t want this argument.”