Manitoba

Winnipeg trans community comes together to honour victims of violence worldwide

Transgender people whose lives have been lost to violence were remembered in Winnipeg on Tuesday

More than 100 people gathered at University of Winnipeg Tuesday night

Members of Winnipeg's transgender community are memorialized at the Transgender Day of Remembrance Tuesday at the University of Winnipeg. (Jaison Empson/CBC)

Transgender people whose lives have been lost to violence were remembered in Winnipeg on Tuesday.

More than 100 people gathered at the Bulman Student Centre at the University of Winnipeg for the reading of a list of 368 names of transgender and gender non-conforming people worldwide who died this past year.

"It's a sad day. It's basically a funeral for over 300 people from around the world where being trans is a difficult, difficult thing," said Shandi Strong, one of the organizers.

The day of commemoration began in 1999 after the death of 34-year-old Rita Hester, a transgender woman of colour in the United States whose murder was never solved.

Members of Winnipeg's transgender community are memorialized at the Transgender Day of Remembrance Tuesday at the University of Winnipeg. (Jaison Empson/CBC)

Strong said while there were no murders of transgender folk in Canada last year, there were several in the U.S. and South America. But the discrimination and fear the community faces every day knows no boundaries, she said, especially when fuelled by politicians and people in power. 

"We're getting the voice out, we're getting the word out, but we're still fighting ignorance every place."

Kelly Houle brought posters she created of Manitoba's missing and murdered transgender people, as she does every year. The former sex worker who spent 27 years on the streets now helps transgender sex workers transition off the street, by connecting them with resources, housing, detox and mental health supports.

'Kicked out of the communities'

"It's dangerous, it's scary, and they're on the streets because they're getting pushed out of their communities because of who they are. They're different, they're being called down and they're just pushed out or kicked out of the communities. They come into the city and we lose them and we find them on the street," she said.

Houle knows the violence they face; she said she's been beaten and discriminated against. Just last week, she was harassed by a man while walking to work along Main Street.

"He started swearing at me, he threatened to stab me. And then he called me a tranny," she said. "Thank goodness he wasn't following me, he kept threatening to stab me in the back," she said. 

But she said sharing her story has made a difference in the lives of others.

"It helped a lot of trans exit. And now they're in a safe place."

Indigenous trans advocate Charlotte Nolin wipes away a tear at the Transgender Day of Remembrance Tuesday at the University of Winnipeg. (Jaison Empson/CBC)

"It's dangerous to live as a trans person today in Canada and in Winnipeg," said Maegan Yallowega, a third-year honours student at the University of Winnipeg's Women and Gender Studies program.

She said while it's "heartbreaking" that a day of remembrance exists for those who died, the acknowledgement has to go further. 

"We should be remembering transgender individuals that face violence on a daily basis. We should be constantly trying to unlearn transphobic biases and constantly trying to support the transgender people that face violence on a daily basis through politics through legislation and in our everyday lives," she said.  

She added general society needs to work with the transgender and queer communities and prioritize voices of colour,  two-spirit folks and trans women, as they face the brunt of the harm and violence.

Emcee Charlotte Nolin gave an emotional speech and a personal story of rising above the discrimination she's faced.

"People always try and destroy what they fear. And I don't know why they fear us. We're some of the most beautiful people there are," she said.

"Remember this. Educate. Educate people. Educate the children. Because the little ones, they learn that hatred from home."

Strong acknowledged it is but a few who hate; not the many. She thanked the allies — ​or the growing community who stand beside and up for those in the transgender community.

"You mean more to us than you will ever know. And you need to hear that from all of us."

Winnipeg's transgender community and allies come together at the University of Winnipeg to pay tribute to the transgender lives lost to violence around the world 2018. 1:08