Manitoba

Winnipeg woman calls for more education on transgender people after Portage Place assault

A Winnipeg woman who was attacked at Portage Place shopping centre says it wouldn't have happened if there was more education about transgender people in Manitoba schools.

'I am just a human being who is existing,' says Lara Rae, who's now healing from a wrist injury

Lara Rae, 56, shows the supportive wrist sock she now wears after being assaulted by someone at Portage Place shopping centre. (Jeff Stapleton/CBC)

A Winnipeg woman who was attacked at Portage Place shopping centre says Manitoba schools need to provide more education about transgender people.

Lara Rae, 56, was at the downtown Winnipeg mall to get medication on Monday afternoon and went to the washroom near the food court to wash her hands and put on lipstick. Rae, a transgender woman, says she goes to the mall often.

She said two women blocking the entrance accosted her.

"They were both highly intoxicated, and one of them started screaming and abusing and misgendering me," said Rae, a well-known comedian and writer who co-founded the Winnipeg Comedy Festival.

She previously had a similar experience in the same bathroom. In that instance, she said she presented her ID to show she's a woman.

"I wasn't sure it was going to work in this case, but when I tried to give the woman my licence, she basically karate chopped my hand and caused this injury."

At that point, one of the women called out to a man coming out of the washroom, who was with them, to "beat up" Rae. 

"He gets in my face, and you know, tries to intimidate me and stare me down. For whatever reason, I kind of see a change in his eyes and he cuts his losses and he just turns and leaves," Rae said.

WATCH | Attack at Winnipeg mall leaves woman injured:

Winnipeg woman calls for more education on transgender people after being assaulted at Portage Place shopping centre. 2:11

Mall security showed up, but the woman continued to scream at Rae, she said.

"Nobody had the training to suggest that this may be a continuation of the abuse and violence against me," Rae said.

"So I just had to stand there and listen to her continue to scream and not one of them thought, 'Maybe you should shut up and stop misgendering this woman and further traumatizing her,' because it doesn't even enter their heads. We are just treated like garbage, my community. I'm sick of it."

Rae says the assault happened at the washrooms near the food court at Portage Place shopping centre on Monday afternoon. (Darren Bernhardt/CBC)

The women and man then left the mall, Rae said.

Winnipeg Police Service officers were called to the mall and spoke with Rae. Police spokesperson Const. Rob Carver said the investigation is ongoing, and no arrests have been made yet.

Mall responds

Rae is now wearing a supportive sleeve for her wrist and healing from a sprain and bruising. The injury is forcing her to take time off of work.

Portage Place management declined an interview with CBC News, but emailed a statement that says they have sent video footage of the suspects to police to try to help identify them. They don't have any security footage of the events that happened by the washroom, the email says.

The security officers didn't see the incident, so they didn't "physically detain the suspects in accordance with our current policies," mall management said.

The mall's general manager, Dave Stone, met with Rae on Tuesday evening to speak about the incident and "extend our apologies for Monday evening's attack," the statement says.

"Based on this conversation and subsequent feedback from the LGBTQ community, we are taking recommended and immediate steps to better protect and enhance LGBTQ safety while at the mall. This includes signage, washroom signage and sensitivity training."

The statements and the conversation are a start, Rae said.

"If that is followed up by meaningful action, then you know that part of it is a solution."

More education

Many people called and emailed the mall about the incident, and there was even a small protest in front of the mall earlier this week to show support for her, Rae said.

She said she doesn't hold much acrimony toward the people who attacked her.

"It could be that they have no ability to learn about trans people because they're not allowed to do so in school. It could be that they come from backgrounds where they have been traumatized, and this is one of the ways that they express trauma."

WATCH | Lara Rae shares what she'd like to see in Manitoba schools:

A Winnipeg woman who was attacked at Portage Place shopping centre says Manitoba schools need to provide more education about transgender people. 0:59

Instead, Rae wants people to hear this story and push for more education in schools about transgender people, and to vote for government representatives who will put that into place.

"I want to see an education system that allows people to understand that sexual minorities are just regular people — just like everybody else," she said.

"The idea that a child can't hear about transgender people is so offensive, obnoxious and dangerous to our community that I demand that everybody stand up and reject it immediately, because the suffering cannot continue."

An investigation by the Manitoba Human Rights Commission earlier this year found the province's school curriculum discriminates against LGBTQ families because it does not include gender identity or sexual orientation in the curriculum and learning materials, but the investigative team's findings were rejected by the government-appointed board of the commission.

CBC News contacted Education Minister Kelvin Goertzen's office for comment.

A provincial spokesperson wrote in an email that "the Manitoba government condemns all acts of violence. The province has resources available to educators and youth regarding diversity online, including Supporting Transgender and Gender Diverse Students in Manitoba Schools."

About the Author

Sam Samson

Journalist

Sam Samson is a multimedia journalist who has worked for CBC in Manitoba and Ontario as a reporter and associate producer. Before working for CBC, she studied journalism and communications in Winnipeg. You can get in touch on Twitter @CBCSamSamson or email samantha.samson@cbc.ca.

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