On Thursday night, Kingstonians gathered at a Transgender Day of Remembrance candlelight vigil in Confederation Park, commemorating victims of anti-transgender violence.
The vigil, hosted by the AMS Education on Queer Issues Project and Reelout Arts Project, followed a Trans* Knowledge Share event on transitioning, which was hosted by Men Who Like Feminism on Tuesday night, and a screening of Laverne Cox’s “The T Word” documentary on Wednesday.
Transgender Day of Remembrance is an internationally-observed day for members and supporters of the transgender community to remember victims of anti-transgender violence and harassment.
The day began as an extension of a project called “Remember Our Dead”, a website to honour victims of transgender violence after the murder of Rita Hester in 1998 sparked awareness of the issue.
AMS Social Issues Commissioner Emily Wong was one of roughly 30 people gathered in the cold, there to light 71 candles in memory of the confirmed 71 victims of murder this year.
“As far as Queen’s goes, I‘d say most students aren’t very aware that these issues exist,” said Wong, ArtSci ’15.
“They know that trans people exist, but they don’t realize that someone trans could be in their class and could be going through difficulties with harassment and transition.”
Wong said although she’s not a member of the transgender community, she felt it was important to show support at the vigil “because this is a community that is fairly marginalized, even within the queer community”.
“This is a community that might be more invisible than people who are visible minorities,” she said.
“People don’t really know that these issues really exist.”
The list of victims was read, along with a prayer, by Kingston United Church minister Ruth Wood.
“People just have so much trouble understanding how somebody can be [transgender]. We’re born that way so it’s not something that we choose it’s just who we are,” Wood told the Journal.
Canada doesn’t have federal legal protection against discrimination based on gender identity. Bill C-279 would amend the Canadian Human Rights Act to include gender identity as a prohibited ground of discrimination and the Criminal Code to include gender identity as a protected distinguishing characteristic and an aggravating circumstance to be taken into consideration during sentencing of an offender.
The bill has been before the Senate for more than a year, despite having been passed by the House of Commons in 2013. Kingston and the Islands MP Ted Hsu voted in favor of the bill when it passed the House.
Wood criticized the fact the bill is still facing the Senate despite having been passed by the House of Commons in Oct. 2013.
“I think it’s really significant that the legislation to protect trans people is still being debated and that it’s taken that long for people to get around to acknowledging that trans people have the same basic rights,” she said.
She added that one of the major issues facing transgender people is employment discrimination.
“I hope the more awareness there is, the more people realize that this is something that occurs and there’s no reason why they shouldn’t employ us.
“At the moment, it’s still a big issue for us.”
Wood said she hasn’t experienced any personal incidences of anti-trans violence, but knows people who have been hassled for being transgender.
She added that washrooms are often the place where harassment comes to a head.
“For trans people, the single biggest thing is that people just have so much trouble understanding how somebody can be that way,” she said.
“We’re born that way, so it’s not something that we choose, it’s just who we are and yet people have so much trouble accepting us and allowing us to be who we are.”
She said people tend to be most accepting of those who “pass” — transgender people who others don’t recognize as transgender.
“There are so many of us that can’t do that … and it’s really hard and yet they should be accepted nonetheless,” Wood said.
“Passing shouldn’t be something where you allow someone to be transgender if they pass but if they don’t pass you say ‘no you can’t do that’.”
She added that while there’s official acceptance of trans people in Kingston, there’s still discrimination on an individual level.
“The fact that we’re here on city property, that they flew the trans flag all day here at City Hall, that’s at least recognition that we exist so officially we are accepted,” she said.
“But I think on a person-by-person basis I think you still find some discrimination here.”
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