Nfld. & Labrador

Trans Day of Remembrance is a sombre day, but a reminder to 'reach for joy,' say organizers

For members of the transgender, non-binary, gender diverse and two-spirited community, Trans Day of Remembrance is a vital day to reflect on discrimination.

Higher rates of violence against trans Canadians sparking virtual vigil on annual day

A crosswalk painted in the colours of the trans Pride flag in Calgary, written on it in chalk is the message, 'Trans Folks Deserve Safety.' (Dave Chidley/The Canadian Press)

For members of the province's transgender, non-binary, gender diverse and two-spirited community, Trans Day of Remembrance is a vital day to reflect on the hardships, violence and discrimination members of the community face, but also an important reminder to keep space for positive experiences and memories.

Trans Day of Remembrance happens every Nov. 20, and began in 1999, sparked by transgender advocate Gwendolyn Ann Smith as a vigil to honour the memory of Rita Hester, a transgender woman who was killed in 1998.

Ailsa Craig, a co-founder of Quadrangle NL, an LGBTQ organization based in St. John's, said the day is a way for community members to honour the memories of those who died as a result of transphobic violence.

"Many people have lost ... people that they know personally by violence or by suicide," Craig said, adding that disproportionate violence is "part of the cultural history" of the trans community.

Trans people lose their lives simply for being trans​​​

"That it is something that you live with, so living with that grieving is something which can be fairly communal."

They're holding a virtual vigil Friday evening to mark the day.

"We're going to be talking a lot about how it is that you can reach for joy while you're still remembering the losses that you have, how we can honour the people's lives rather than focusing on their deaths," Craig said.

Ailsa Craig, right, and Charles Murphy are co-founders of Quadrangle NL. (Paula Gale/CBC)

The theme — remembrance as an act of creativity and care — hits home for the community, Craig said, since it can be challenging to remember the good when folks are faced with a higher rate of violence and hardship.

"When people die by violence … there can be a lot of attention paid to, well, gory details of what's happened," Craig said. The antidote, they added, is figuring out how to honour victims by meditating on what they've brought to the world.

Craig said those difficult experiences are part of fabric of the community, but it's important to remember there are other facets to life for transgender people.

"When we see our communities only through crisis statistics, then we don't actually see the full range of our lives," Craig said.

"Even though we know a fair bit about the violence that we're inordinately subjected to, that's not the only way to know the community — you can also know the community through the contributions that we make and through the ways that we care for one another."

Sharing unique experiences

Transgender Canadians are more likely to report they have experienced violence since age 15, and are also more likely to experience inappropriate behaviours in public, online and at work than non-transgender Canadians.

That's according to a study conducted in 2018, released in a report by the Canadian Centre for Justice and Community Safety Statistics in September.

Craig, also a professor with Memorial University's sociology department, said Canadian statistics of violence against trans people aren't widely available, but added that in 2019, "more than 300 trans people — primarily Black, brown and Indigenous trans women — were murdered."

Logan St. Croix of non-profit Trans Support NL said the day of remembrance is a vital event for his community.

"Remembering when people are lost, particularly when they're lost because of something like this, because of a hate crime, is really important to have the community come together and be able to really support each other," St. Croix said.

A trans flag is waved at a Black Trans Lives Matter march in New York City on Oct. 3. (Shutterstock)

Transphobia has many different forms, St. Croix said, "as most hate does," and can vary depending on an individual's gender expression and lived experience.

"It's sort of on a sliding scale — you can have microaggressions, where people are not using the correct name, the correct pronoun, make comments about maybe someone's voice or how their face might look … and we know of course that it can get much more deadly than that," St. Croix said.

"Trans people lose their lives simply for being trans."

St. Croix said his experience would be different from many others in the community, and panel discussions like the one happening Friday evening are an important way for members to share information.

"For me personally, it's a time to kind of pause and reflect on the privilege that I have as a trans-masculine person," St. Croix said.

"Living here in Canada, [that privilege is] the protections that I have, that I know that people — my trans brothers and sisters and non-binary community — don't really have in other parts of the world, simply because they are trans-feminine."

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

With files from CBC Newfoundland Morning and The St. John's Morning Show