Indigenous

Indigenous trans woman reflects on past attack for Transgender Day of Remembrance

'I never thought of myself as a victim, ever in my life,' says Chevi Rabbit

Chevi Rabbit

Chevi Rabbit addresses the crowd at the Hate to Hope rally in 2016. (Chevi Rabbit/Facebook)

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On the International Transgender Day of Remembrance, Chevi Rabbit is reflecting on those who have lost their lives, and giving thanks for surviving an incident that could have left her dead.

"It's scary that I could have been a statistic," said Rabbit upon recalling an encounter with three men who cat-called her as she walked on a sidewalk near a shopping centre in Edmonton.

When they realized she was a transgender woman, they switched their tone and then assaulted her in broad daylight.

"I happened to be in a public place ... but could you imagine if it was in a dark alley or something? It still gives me chills thinking about it," she said.

Discrimination was a foreign concept to her, after growing up in a supportive family in rural Alberta. Rabbit said it wasn't until she left home that she understood what it was like to be targeted because of her gender identity.

Soon after the incident Rabbit became a voice for equality and raising awareness of the vulnerabilities facing the transgender and LGBT community in Alberta. She founded the Hate to Hope Campaign to help bring light to the issue.

'Double minority'

Rabbit said her experience near the shopping centre led to anxiety attacks and post-traumatic stress disorder. So she set out to create her own type of closure from the incident by doing the opposite of what had been done to her — spreading a message of love and tolerance.

"I never thought of myself as a victim, ever in my life," she said.

"I am a person. I use my story as a way of hope. There may be a few haters out there who are ignorant but there's also a lot of good people."

As she researched her heritage as a First Nations person, Rabbit said she learned about how Indigenous transgender and two-spirit peoples were suppressed when European colonists arrived. Transgender people who are also Indigenous struggle with double the discrimination in Canada, she said.

"It's a double minority," she said.

"There's not the same support networks. Youth don't have the same opportunities. They get into drugs and alcohol. Some get into prostitution and other illicit ways of making an income. This puts them into an extremely vulnerable group and the violence they experience is higher."

Chevi Rabbit

Chevi Rabbit founded the Hate to Hope society after she was assaulted for being transgender in 2011. (Aaron Petersen )

'Intersecting forms of identity'

Jennifer Hansen with Amnesty International Canada agrees that Indigenous people who identify as transgender face more discrimination.

"If you are a trans woman who is also Indigenous, you're dealing with barriers because of your gender identity and your Indigenous identity and all of the discrimination related with those various intersecting forms of identity," she said.

Although research is limited, some studies such as Trans Pulse out of Ontario, have shown that violence and discrimination against the transgender community in Canada is "alarming," she added.

Suicide rates are higher as well as a high rate of self-harm is trending among the transgender community.

"This certainly points to the discrimination, the stigmatization, the harassment that is just so on going throughout the lives of trans," said Hansen.

Last spring, the Canadian Human Rights Act was amended to add gender identity and gender expression to the list of prohibited grounds of discrimination.

"Strong legislation is a good start, but there's still a long way to go in eliminating the discrimination that trans folks so often face," said Hansen.

Rabbit said she is thankful for the progression of transgender rights because she thinks one generation ago she could have been murdered, and no one would have cared. More efforts to move beyond education and starting to humanize transgender people will help lessen the rates of violence, she said.

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