Trans flags raised in Alberta a sign of progress: advocates
'A lot of these people were pushed into situations of poverty and unsafe working conditions'
A few dozen people assembled at the McDougall Centre in downtown Calgary and even more in Edmonton to watch as transgender pride flags were raised to honour International Transgender Day of Remembrance on Sunday afternoon.
The event attracted Albertans of all ages.
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Six-year-old Elliott came with both of his mothers. His family isn't out yet, but his parents wanted to show him a space that is supportive.
"I think it's kind of cool that my dad has transgender," Elliott told CBC News.
The province is taking steps to make sure all Albertans feel safe regardless of their gender identity.
Justice Minister Kathleen Ganley said it's a huge step forward.
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"I'm proud that our government has taken action to amend the Alberta Human Rights Act to protect against discrimination based on gender identity and gender expression. We will continue to work towards equality for all Albertans," she said.
Cameron Nicholson said it's a step in the right direction for trans people like himself.
"It is hugely important," Nicholson explained.
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"There are so many lives that have been lost to transphobia and the more that we are visible about it and the more that we can make it acceptable and just common knowledge, the easier it will become for so many of us. To have that safety and know that we can walk down the street and not fear for our lives, is really, really important."
Angela Reid of the Trans Equality Society of Alberta says it's about reflecting on a marginalized group that struggles with higher suicide rates than the rest of the population.
"Seeing the support from our Alberta government is a huge indicator of the amount of progress we have made both in having representatives in government that are willing to listen and also a symptom of the greater societal acceptance and understanding," Reid said.
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"We are remembering the struggles of all of those who ended up losing their lives to violence because, unfortunately, if you go through so many of the stories, a lot of these people were pushed into situations of poverty and unsafe working conditions that made it far more likely that they would experience violence."
One of Elliott's moms says the results of the U.S. presidential election are concerning.
"I think there's a huge, huge threat now or a huge feeling of a threat anyway, that we're going to go, everyone's going to go backward," Deedee said.
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"We're really fortune, that we live in the city, the place, the country that we do, and that's a really positive thing for us, going through this."
Reid agrees the fight for equality is far from over.
"There is still a considerable amount of work to be done," she said.
"We have a lot of concerns about what is happening in the U.S. with the backlash following the election and some indications that those kinds of politics may be gaining traction in Canada."
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For 26-year-old Nicholson though, it's about continuing to move forward.
"I think there is always going to be struggles," he said.
"There is always going to be something we are going to have to face and deal with and it is always going to be changing but there will be a lot of positivity to it as well and I think we are taking steps in the right direction, we just can't allow ourselves to take steps backwards and continue to fight not just for our human rights but everyone's human rights."
Annual event in Edmonton
In Edmonton, raising the trans flag is already an annual event.
Ricardo Miranda, Alberta's minister of culture and tourism, said the ceremony is now more poignant than ever.
"There's a resurgence, in some respects, in that level of toxic discourse in the public arena that is very damaging to people and it makes people suffer in silence," he said.
"That's absolutely not what we want to see."
A small crowd huddled in the cold as Miranda raised the flag through a flurry of snowflakes.
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"All of it is part of a greater desire to make our communities strong and vibrant and resilient," he said.
Jan Buterman — former president of TESA — said he felt encouraged to hear government officials such as Miranda acknowledge the struggles of transgender people in Alberta. But raising a flag is purely symbolic, he added.
"Raising a symbol is not the same as ensuring that everything under this jurisdiction is going to be barrier-free for people who are trans," he said.
"It's good to show that symbol but it's also very important that collectively we do not somehow end up believing that everything is fixed."
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With files from Kate Adach, Mario De Ciccio, Zoe Todd and Camille Martel