Day of remembrance a time to reflect on victims of anti-transgender violence

Advocates, politicians and allies across the province will be lighting candles and raising flags Monday for Transgender Day of Remembrance.

'It's heartbreaking to think about all the individuals who aren't here,' trans advocate says

Plastic candles are lit during a service to remember victims of anti-transgender violence. (CBC)

The 20th of November is always a sombre day on Amelia Newbert's calendar — a day she spends thinking about the victims and survivors of anti-transgender violence.

"It's heartbreaking to think about all the individuals who aren't here, but I'm immensely, immensely grateful for all of us who are here," Newbert, a co-founder of Calgary trans group Skipping Stone Foundation, said Sunday.

Newbert is one of thousands of people attending Transgender Day of Remembrance events worldwide. The annual commemoration honours those who have lost their lives to anti-transgender violence.

Between Oct. 1, 2016 and Sept. 30 of this year, 325 transgender people around the world lost their lives, according to an online list. The only Canadian name on the list this year is that of Sisi Thibert, a transgender sex worker who was stabbed in her Montreal apartment in September.

The remembrance services generally ask members of the trans community, local politicians and allies to take turns reading all the names of the victims. Those in attendance are then asked to light candles in their memory.

The transgender flag will be flying outside of the Alberta Legislature and Calgary's McDougall Centre on Monday to commemorate the 325 transgender people who have lost their lives this year. (Torbak Hopper/Flickr)

"It's a chance for us to … reflect on a community that's often invisible in their own families and in their own homes," said Edmonton-based trans advocate Marni Panas.

In Alberta, flags will be raised outside the legislature and the McDougall Centre in Calgary.

In a Facebook post, the Alberta government said its participation in the service is part of a commitment to a more inclusive and equal province.

Panas said the gesture "is indicative of a big shift" toward an inclusive environment for transgender people in Alberta, and the country at large.

Statistics Canada doesn't track the number of gender identity-related deaths, but does count hate crimes based on sexual orientation. There were 141 reported hate crimes related to sexual orientation in 2015, down from 155 in 2014. The majority of these hate crimes were violent.

"I feel safer today in Alberta being a trans person now than I would have in any time of my life," Panas said. "But with that the backlash is still very real."

'Suffering in silence'

Newbert said there are everyday challenges for trans people, including using the right pronouns, being understood in schools and gaining access to proper healthcare.

These issues can easily discourage youth as they start to discover who they are, Newbert added.

"It creates a ton of tension around their relationship with their body that's so, so important and really … perpetuates the discord they feel within themselves," Newbert said.

The number of people remembered during Transgender Day of Remembrance does not include the transgender people who die by suicide. If those numbers were included, Newbert said, the list would be even longer.

Results from a national online survey published in 2015 indicated that one-third of transgender Canadians between the ages of 14 to 25 had attempted suicide.

Panas said in going forward, what will be important to transgender Canadians is whether action on the front lines matches government policy. 

"There are still a lot of youth out there who are suffering in silence," Panas said.