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Trans March draws several hundred to help kick off Pride

Participants note progress in Vancouver but say more needs to be done

“Penis! Maybe he’s born with it, maybe it’s none of your business,” reads 16-year-old Alilesaander Jacobsen’s sign (centre, with Candy Fine, left, and Soy Wock). Credit: Nathaniel Christopher

Approximately 350 people took to Commercial Drive Aug 1 for the fifth annual Trans, Two-Spirit and Genderqueer Liberation and Celebration March to help kick off Pride weekend in Vancouver.

The event began at Clark Park, where participants created their own signs. “Penis! Maybe he’s born with it, maybe it’s none of your business,” 16-year-old Alilesaander Jacobsen’s sign read.

“I am here because I’m a proud trans guy who wants to march somewhere,” he said. “I’m tired of trans teens not being accepted because people think they are too young to know what’s happening.”

Danielle Cowan’s sign identified her as a proud parent of a non-binary teen. “We are here to support everyone who is perhaps not comfortable in the universe that has only two boxes for their gender, and sometimes you can’t always check male or female. Sometimes you want to check both or neither,” she said.

Participants marched north in the northbound lanes of Commercial Drive to Victoria Park. Tara Chee, who is a member of the grassroots collective that organizes the event, describes it as both a celebration and a protest.

“We purposefully call it a celebration and liberation march because it’s somewhat in conjunction with Pride and it’s a celebration of our identity and community,” she says. “It’s also a protest because of the many issues that trans people face, such as high unemployment, homelessness, gender policing and other forms of discrimination.”

A community-organized trans march has been held in Vancouver every summer since 2010. For the past two years, the march has taken place on Commercial Drive on the Friday before Pride. The events are unaffiliated with the Vancouver Pride Society (VPS).

“It’s a platform for minority trans voices to be heard when other larger Pride circles may feel marginalized or silenced,” Chee says. “This is not to say that Pride events are inherently marginalizing, and this event isn’t done to be against any other Pride celebration. It’s supposed to complement them.”

VPS president Tim Richards, who has attended the Trans March for three years in a row, says this year’s event follows notable gains for trans equality in Vancouver.

“Look at the progress last year with the parks board and more recently progress with the school board,” he says. “It’s fantastic. That support is so needed, and this is so important at a march like this to provide visibility to a very marginalized part of our community.”

In April, the Vancouver Board of Parks and Recreation unanimously approved a plan to make the city’s parks and community centres more inclusive of transgender people. Two months later, the Vancouver School Board updated its existing sexual orientation and gender identity policy to be more supportive of transgender students.

However, Marie Little, chair of the Trans Alliance Society, points out that gender identity is still protected by neither the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms nor the BC Human Rights Code.

“Right now we are fighting individual battles for every single thing, whereas if we had a provincial or a federal thing, we wouldn’t have to fight all these one-at-a-time battles,” she explains. “We could use the fact that we are a recognized group to get rights.”

Shantel Ivits, who is co-organizing the BC Trans Advocacy Day this fall, notes that transgender British Columbians also face numerous barriers to healthcare, including difficulties in getting referrals, healthcare practitioners’ lack of knowledge on transgender issues, and outright refusal of care.

“It’s a day that will be happening in the fall where a bunch of trans people will be getting together to advocate for safe, accessible and timely trans surgeries in British Columbia,” Ivits says. “Terry Lake is the minister of health, and we’d like to hold him responsible for the shortcomings in healthcare for trans people.”

Ivits points out that many medical services for trans people, such as referrals and sex-reassignment surgery, are often inaccessible to people who live outside the Greater Vancouver area.

“All of the bottom surgeries are currently happening in Montreal, and so if you want to get bottom surgery that’s paid for by MSP, you’re still on the hook for costs associated with the flight, as well as the post-surgical care costs. Nobody else has to pay for their own post-surgical care costs for surgery, so why do trans people?”