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Violence against women affects all women, cisgender or transgender. However, there is not much documentation of violence against trans* women. Now, two Vancouver journalism students, Lenée Son and Elina Gress, are opening the narrative for trans* women of colour.
Their crowdfunded documentary project digs into this complex issue by sharing the story of January Lapuz, a trans* woman of colour who was murdered in 2012 in New Westminster, B.C.
The documentary is still in early stages of production, but in the days before the December 6 Day of Remembrance, Son and Gress will speak at the event TRANS*/ILLUMINATION: Shining a light through the Structures of Cis Hetero-patriarchal Violence on December 1 at Kwantlen Polytechnic University in Surrey, B.C. to illuminate the narratives of trans* women of colour.
rabble.ca spoke with Son about the documentary and the upcoming event. This interview has been condensed.
Who was January Marie Lapuz?
She was a Filipino trans* woman. She was born in the Philippines and her mother adopted her when she was found by a garbage dump. They immigrated to Canada, moved to Surrey and that’s where she grew up. January started her transition in high school and afterwards she found it difficult to hold a job, difficult to have a steady income and she ended up doing sex work. She was murdered in 2012 in New Westminster.
After she transitioned, she became an advocate for transgender people. She was known to help a lot of people with their transitions. She was known to be a bright person and the one thing that I always find is common in the stories that people tell me of her is that she was very giving in spite of her circumstances. She was a survivor.
Why did you want to tell her story?
I feel like a lot of trans* women of colour face this type of violence, transmisogyny and transphobia but their stories are unheard. Stories like January’s are lost — they’re not remembered. That’s why we wanted to do the film not just on January, but in remembrance of other trans* women of colour.
Transpeople and trans* women of colour are being murdered at such an unprecedented rate. That narrative is being silenced and that silence is almost deafening. To hear about January, who lives only 15 minutes away from me, was really scary — that there was this trans* woman of colour who lived near me who was murdered and I had absolutely no idea about it. Right away I knew that was telling of the issue. Not only does January’s story need to be heard but also the voices of women of colour within Canadian society.
Tell me more about your documentary. What message are you trying to send?
The message we are trying to send with the film is that we want to address the social, economic, political issues that trans* women of colour face. Not only do we want to address those issues, but we also want to uplift the narratives of trans* women of colour. We want it to be a platform for trans* women of colour to have their voices heard and we want it to be a celebration of these women.
How does January’s experience illuminate the broader experience of trans* women of colour?
From what I have heard from Natasha [an Indigenous trans* woman being interviewed for the documentary] we can see some parallels to January’s story — they both lived very difficult lives and both stem from systematic racism and systematic transphobia. Those two things are interconnected. We can see the parallels in what both of these women face. That’s something we have to consider when we think about what trans* women of colour go through and the laws and policies in Canada that foster that environment of transphobia and transviolence.
One example is that January had a hard time finding employment and she was fired from one job. Natasha also talked about that — how it was very difficult for her to find work.
Do you think it was difficult for her to find work because of transphobia or because of racism?
I think it’s both. There’s an interconnectedness to both issues. Studies have shown that people of colour have a difficult time finding jobs — for example handing in resumes with names that are racialized. Then also being transgender, people report having issues finding jobs. So if you’re both transgender, and you’re a person of colour, then you have to deal with both of these effects of being marginalized.
As we’re approaching the National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Women, what changes do you hope to see that will ensure trans* women of colour are going to be recognized and considered?
I think the number one thing is support. One trans* woman of colour that I met told me how important it is to not only support your cisgender sisters but support all your sisters, all your transgender sisters.
Also if Bill C-279 could be passed quicker. I know that’s been floating about for a while and it’s been so slow to pass. If that was passed, at least there would be some laws and policy that would protect trans* women of colour. There’s no law in Canada that specifies gender identity and I feel like if Bill C-279 passed there would at least be laws and policy in place that would protect transgendered people.
You’re not simply making a film — can you tell me about the event you’re holding on December 1?
It’s an event called Trans Illumination: Shining a light through the Structures of Cis Hetero-Patriarchal Violence. We went with this name because we like “illumination” and because the three trans* women of colour that are speaking at the event felt like their voices were being illuminated. That’s the whole point of the event. It’s a platform for all of these women to speak and for the narrative to get out there among cisgender people. It’s an alternative to cisgender narratives on violence against women.
Alyse Kotyk is a Vancouver writer and editor with a passion for social justice, storytelling and tea. She studied English Literature and Global Development at Queen’s University and believes in the ability to make positive changes through media that digs deep, asks questions and shares narratives. Alyse was the Editor of Servants Quarters and has written for the Queen’s News Centre, Quietly Media and the Vancouver Observer.