Late Thursday afternoon, voices from Toronto’s trans community thundered across Nathan Phillips Square during a historic — if fraught — ceremony.
On the Transgender Day of Remembrance, held each year on Nov 20, for the first time ever a trans flag was raised in an official ceremony on the roof of Toronto’s city hall. Approximately 100 people withstood below-freezing temperatures to attend, including mayor-elect John Tory; councillor-elect Joe Cressy; councillors Janet Davis, Sarah Doucette, Joe Mihevc and Ceta Ramkhalawansingh; former mayor Barbara Hall; and former mayoral candidate George Smitherman.
But there was tension in the air even before the ceremony started. Amidst reports of a planned protest of the event, members of the Toronto Trans Alliance (TTA) alleged that the flag they had brought for the event was stolen from the flagpole.
“I don’t know anything for sure” about who took the flag, said Rocky Clark, a member of the TTA’s steering committee. He said he was aware that there had been a protest planned by another group of trans activists.
Huddled nearby inside city hall with several other protesters, Abuzar Chaudhary, the organizer of the protest, said she hadn’t heard that the flag had been stolen.
After a second flag was procured to be raised on the flagpole at the end of the ceremony, Chaudhary clashed with a member of the audience who objected to her speaking during the accompanying moment of silence by standing in front of Chaudhary. The confrontation came to a head when Chaudhary put her sign in front of the person standing in front of her. Though one person called for security and police were nearby, the dispute ended peacefully.
Chaudhary organized the protest over concerns that the TTA does not properly represent the trans community. Among her concerns was that the flag raised at the ceremony, which was designed in advance of the Transgender Day of Remembrance and chosen by a consensus of TTA members, represented only the TTA.
Throughout most of the ceremony, Chaudhary and four other protesters marched behind the speakers holding signs stating that the Toronto Trans Alliance silences trans women of colour. “I’m happy with the protest,” Chaudhary said. “Unfortunately, I would have at least liked it if the TTA had acknowledged there is a problem and that they need to work towards a resolution with the community.”
Boyd Kodak, another member of the TTA steering committee, said they were disappointed that the scuffle had occurred. He was happy with how the ceremony went, however, despite the interruption. “A little long and cold,” he said, noting that the delay was because of the missing flag and adding that there may be video footage of the person who took it.
Representatives from across the trans community shared personal stories and spoke about the importance of acknowledging the Transgender Day of Remembrance. One speaker, Rubert Raj, reminded attendees of the barriers transgender people face, while Shadmith Manzo, who immigrated to Canada from Mexico, said that the intention is to continue to push the transgender movement forward.
Several of the speakers called on attendees to encourage federal senators to vote for the passing of Bill C-279, the transgender rights bill.
Once the flag was raised, most of the crowd broke into chants of “What do we want? Trans rights! When do we want them? Now!”