'There's so many happy people': 400 take part in Winnipeg's first Trans March

The head organizer of Winnipeg's first-ever Trans March in support of the transgender community said she's blown away by the number of people who turned up to take part.

'It's showing that we're people,' organizer says of Saturday rally, march and performances

The head organizer of Winnipeg's first-ever Trans March in support of the transgender community said she's blown away by the number of people who turned up to take part.

"When I first started planning this and knowing how shy some trans people can be, I was expecting 50 to 100 people," said Shandi Strong, a member of the Pride Winnipeg committee who helped organize the event.

"I was overwhelmed. I almost cried on the podium, because we had 400 and some odd people there."

The march began at 2 p.m. with a rally at the legislative grounds. From there, participants hit the streets and walked down Broadway to the Via Rail building on Main Street, then to a stage at The Forks where trans musicians performed.

"It was awesome, and it's showing that we're people," Strong said. "We're not just a label that has the word 'trans' in front of it. We are very diverse, amazing, powerful people and we need to have this kind of stuff showcased."

Strong said an event for trans people was overdue in the Pride festival. Last year, the Pride organization was criticized by members of the LGBT community who felt there wasn't space for them in the event, including trans people and people of colour.

"Lesbians and gays have kind of benefited from a long, sometimes arduous fight, you know, to get the rights that they have, and in the meantime, trans people and … queer people of colour have been kind of left by the wayside," she said.

Strong said she was proud of Pride's response and all the marchers and speakers who took part.

"That's so, so important to people that feel like they've been marginalized or left out," she said. "They have their voice and they're able to use it. I'm so proud of them."

Nico Dibernardo, in the rainbow flag, said he was nervous about attending the Trans March but was ultimately happy he did. The 16-year-old identifies as transgender and said he was happy to see so many young people at the event. (Erin Brohman/CBC)

Nico Dibernardo, 16, said he was nervous to come to the march but was glad he did.

"I wasn't sure if there was going to be any protesters or anything, but at the same time, I was excited to see people who I identify with," Dibernardo said.

Dibernardo identifies as transgender. He needs testosterone as part of his transition, but he said he's been on a waiting list for the hormone for a year and a half.

"It kind of sucks," he said. "It's frustrating, because while I know it's not necessarily anyone's fault, there needs to be change, because the rates of suicide and self-harm in trans kids is way higher than it should be, and part of it is due to not being able to get the support and hormones that they need."

Dibernardo said it was important to him to participate as a way to bring attention to trans people and the challenges they face.

"I want to be able to show my support for the trans community, for my brothers and sisters that are a part of it, and be able to show that I'm not ashamed of who I am and try to bring change to things in the trans community that need to be changed," he said.

He said he was proud and excited to see how many young people took part in the event.

"I'm very happy that I'm here. It's been a great time," he said. "There's so many happy people here who identify under all sorts of different labels."

1 arrested in lead-up to event

At the rally, participants heard from six speakers with different perspectives on trans issues, with an impromptu appearance from 22-year-old Winnipegger who had been arrested at the site hours earlier.

The 22-year-old, who identifies as transgender, was arrested after filming a police officer following a clash between opposing protest groups at the site.

Strong told CBC News the incident highlighted the need for events like the march.

"It's necessary for trans people to be visible, and it's necessary for police and other people in the world to be educated as to who we are, what we're all about so that the prejudices disappear," she said.

With files from Erin Brohman