Tackling transphobia

Candelit ceremony memorializes transgendered victims

Kingston residents gather in front of City Hall Wednesday night.
Kingston residents gather in front of City Hall Wednesday night.
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Participants held candles during the ceremony.
Participants held candles during the ceremony.
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In his five years at Queen’s, Thomas Pritchard has been yelled at from cars and porches, and his friends have been beaten up and publically insulted.

Pritchard said it’s a fact of life for transgender students, and he’s grown to expect some ignorance about transgender issues.

“I think it’s a common story. A lot of my friends have been in violent and uncomfortable situations,” Pritchard, AMS vice-president (university affairs), said.

He’s the first member of an AMS executive to identify as transgender. Even with support from community organizations, he said, the situation for transgender students hasn’t changed much since he arrived at Queen’s.

Pritchard was among the 60 Queen’s students and Kingston residents attending a candlelight vigil for transgender victims of hate crimes.

The event took place at Confederation Basin in front of Kingston City Hall on Wednesday night. Each person in attendance was given a candle to hold throughout the service.

The event was held as part of Transgender Remembrance Day, which began as a tribute to Rita Hester, a transgender woman who was murdered in Allston, Massachusetts in 1998.

Excluding suicides, 238 transgendered people have been killed around the world this year. None of the murders occurred in Canada. Ruth Wood, a transgender minister with the United Church of Canada, gave a speech at the event on transgender discrimination.

Much is being done to increase societal awareness and acceptance for gay and lesbian people, Wood said, yet little is done for transgendered people.

After the ceremony, Wood said she was pleased with how many people came out to show their support.

Wood said that although no murders have occurred in Canada, transphobia and discrimination still exist.

“This is because lots of people lack knowledge on this issue,” she said. “Awareness leads to acceptance.”

This means raising awareness is the best strategy for preventing hate crimes, she said.

Mark Leonard and Shannon Watson, co-chairs of Education on Queer Issues Project (EQUIP), also spoke on the hate crimes committed in the last year.

Michelle Hamelin, the event’s organizer, said transgender people are still attacked and murdered at higher rates than other groups.

She said this is the first year there has been a single event for both the Queen’s and Kingston communities.

“Last year there were two separate events in Queen’s and the Kingston community,” Hamelin said. “I got together with Shannon last year and talked about changing it into one event.” She said greater visibility of transgender individuals would help spread awareness in the Kingston community.

“Every time someone comes out as trans, someone else is being educated about it,” she said. “Talking about and discussing these issues is important.”

Most people get their information on transgender people from television and the media, she said, which sometimes gives them a skewed perception.

In reality, Hamelin noted, transgender people live the same way everyone else does.

“We’re judges, we’re lawyers, we’re everywhere,” she said.

Amanda Ryan, the outreach committee chair for Gender Mosaic in Ottawa, said she attended the flag-raising earlier in the day.

Gender Mosaic is the oldest transgender support group in Canada.

“It’s important to remember the people who have been murdered worldwide,” she said. “Canada can be a very friendly country, but there can still be violence and discrimination.”

Ryan said Canada as a country has made great progress in improving the lives of transgender people.

“We’ve made great leaps and bounds … we used to say transgender and get various sexual stereotypes come back at you. Now, when you say that, people say ‘Oh, I’ve heard of that, tell me more’.”

— With files from Nicholas Wheeler-Hughes

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