The noisy Learning Resource Commons at Humber College fell significantly quieter as students and faculty bowed their heads for a moment of silence for people in the trans community lost to transphobia this year.
Transgender Day of Remembrance (TDoR) is held annually on Nov. 20 to commemorate those who were violently killed by oppression of the trans and non-binary community.
The murder of Rita Hester, an African-American woman in Massachusetts, in November 1998 highlighted the on-going dehumanization and mistreatment of transgender people. TDoR has since been celebrated internationally to bring attention and awareness to the continued violence the trans community faces.
LGBTQ+ Resource Centre member and host of the TDOR event Kenny Dawkins said that many discredit transphobia because they think these acts of violence only occur in the United States.
“There’s a lot of missing trans women in Canada that have died that continues to go unreported,” Dawkins said.
“I don’t think people understand how extreme it is,” Dawkins said. “There’s already been about 25 deaths in the United States alone and overall in the whole world there’s been almost 300 [this year].”
The Humber ceremony started with a speech about the lives that were lost, not to suicide, but to transphobia. Dawkins gave recognition to the 26 pink, white and blue balloons present during the ceremony, one for every transphobia related death reported in the United States so far this year (one more than Dawkins cited).
The event featured a screening of Cosmo’s 2015 documentary Mom, I’m Not a Girl: Raising a Transgender Child. The short doc profiles a family with a transgender son who was certain of his gender identity at a very young age.
The event concluded with a slideshow commemorating those in the trans community murdered this past year. The official TDoR list has 295 names of trans people murdered globally in the last 12 months. Brazil (123), Mexico (52) and the United States (26) saw the most such murders.
A 2015 report by the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs showed a disturbing multi-year trend where transgender women are at a greater risk of death by hate violence than any other group.
The American report indicates of the 18 reported LGBTQ+ people killed by hate violence in 2013, 72 per cent were transgender women. Of the 20 reported LGBTQ+ people killed by hate violence in 2014, 11 were transgender women. In 2015, of the 24 reported LGBTQ+ people killed by hate violence, 16 per cent were transgender and gender non-conforming people.
The lack of media coverage for trans and non-binary fatalities has led the LGTBQ+ community to actively work together with non-trans people to make the world a more inclusive place for the community.
LGBTQ+ Resource Centre coordinator Natalie Elisha said the goal was to create an event that would raise awareness and dialogue among people who haven’t been exposed to the trans or non-binary community.
“One of the best things you could do is listen to trans people,” Elisha said.
“Educate yourself and be respectful of trans people if you share a space with them. Have conversations with them, get to know them,” Elisha said. “If they use a particular name or pronoun make an effort to use that name and pronoun.”
She said one of the worst things a person can do is make an assumption based on the way somebody looks.
“Use gender neutral language if you’re not sure of someone’s gender identity or the pronoun that they are using. Instead of saying he or she or ladies and gentlemen you say they or them, or hi everybody,” Elisha said. “Feeling empowered to speak on those issues is something that allies can and should do.”
A discussion followed in the LGBTQ+ Resource Centre for those interested in learning more about trans communities, recognizing that increasing the dialogue about acts of violence would help create a safe space for everyone.
“It’s not directly affecting you from whatever choice their gender identity or they’re gender expression is,” Dawkins said about people who are transphobic.
“I’m hoping people will understand how much a certain type of phobia can turn violent. They just want to live their life in a comfortable way and they’re not trying to deceive you, they’re just trying to be themselves.”