Toronto

'They're never going to stop us': Trans March kicks off Pride weekend amid concerns about safety

When Mira Yilmaz left Turkey to come to Canada, she had high hopes she would have an easier time finding acceptance than she did in that country. But there are worries here too about safety at the Pride Parade and other festivities.

After an altercation at Pride events in Hamilton, Toronto organizers say they too have received threats

The 10th annual Trans March took place Friday night ahead of Pride weekend with participants marching to the Allan Gardens. It was Mira Yilmaz's first time attending. (CBC)

When Mira Yilmaz left Turkey to come to Canada, she had high hopes she would have an easier time finding acceptance than she did in that country.

Yilmaz has only been in Canada for a month and a half, and already the difference is palpable.

"Beautiful," she called it, speaking at the 10th annual Trans March that took place Friday night ahead of Pride Weekend. "I hope it stays this way."

In Turkey, says Yilmaz, the conservative government has been trying to put a stop to the parades, and LGBT people often find themselves little protection. It's why she says she left the country. 

"There are a lot of murders targeting LGBTQ people, which is very sad, just because of their gender and their political ideas," she said.

But there are worries here too about safety at the Pride Parade and other festivities. Last Saturday, a physical confrontation broke out at the Hamilton Pride festival, with investigators suggesting individuals with the Yellow Vest Movement may have been involved in a protest that ended with several people receiving minor injuries. 

'An increasingly hateful world'

The board of directors for Pride Hamilton said the protest was led by "religious leaders from the United States and Canada," who intentionally came to "hatefully" disrupt the event.

It was, according to organizers, a "measurable escalation" from the previous year.

That's the type of incident Christin Milloy, with the board of directors for Pride Toronto, is concerned about.

Milloy says organizers of the Toronto Pride events have received threats that similar confrontations could happen here, and that she's comforted by the fact that so many volunteers within the community have stepped up to keep watch so that the event is a safe one. 

If and when they do show up, we'll be there to face them.- Christin Milloy

That, in part, is why Milloy says Pride needs to look back at its activist origins and do more to provide support to communities, "like Pride used to do, back when it was a protest and less of a celebration."

"We live in an increasingly hateful world," Milloy said. This is and remains for some people the only place that's safe for them to come and be themselves and be supported and be affirmed."

'We're here'

Berkha Gupta, executive director for LGBT Youthline has been attending the Trans March for over five years and says there's still a long way to go for transgender people and their rights to be recognized.

"We've gotten as far as 'love is love,' but oftentimes when people don't match gender expectations, they face a lot of discrimination," Gupta said. 

Christin Milloy, on the board of directors with Pride Toronto, says there have been threats of disruptions at Pride events this year. (CBC)

Gupta is encouraged by recent changes such as the federal protections for transgender Canadians enacted in 2017.

But, Gupta points out, the unemployment rate for trans people still remains one of the highest, violence against trans women of colour is still an ongoing problem and that rights for sex workers are still lacking.

That's why, Gupta says, celebrations like the Trans March are so important.

"Events like this make it possible for us to connect with each other and make it known that there's a lot of us, and we're here."

And on those who might try to disrupt the weekend's Pride festivities, Milloy says: 

"If and when they do show up, we'll be there to face them."

"They're wasting their energy because they're never going to stop us… Diversity brings us strength and I think they're afraid of that strength."

With files from Kelda Yuen