Members of Ottawa’s transgendered community and their allies gathered at 13th annual Transgender Day of Remembrance (TDOR) on Sunday.
The vigil was held along with a week of trans-positive events in the capital, including a flag raising ceremony with police.
Candlelight from cupped hands illuminated the Human Rights Monument as the names of murdered trans people from 26 countries were read to the crowd. Causes of death were often graphic; victims have been beaten, burned, shot, and dismembered. Sadly, many victims were never identified by police and listed only as “no name reported.”
Alex Thomas, Pink Triangle Service’s Trans-Action co-ordinator, facilitated the event and says the death toll is on the rise. In 2010 there were 179 trans people killed, while 221 trans folks were murdered this year alone.
“It’s getting worse,” says Thomas. “”If you even take a look at the list and some of the crimes that have been committed in the last year, it’s horrifying.”
According to Thomas, a large percentage of the victims were women and many were involved in sex work.
This overlap inspired the sex workers’ union, Prostitutes of Ottawa/Gatineau Work Educate Resist (POWER), to participate in solidarity.
Fred Chabot, a member of POWER, says laws criminalizing prostitution gets in the way of sex workers reporting violence to police. Though these laws have been successfully challenged in Ontario, they are still being appealed by the federal government.
“If you’re a trans sex worker, you’re vulnerable to violence because of the laws,” Chabot says. “There are no such things as safeguards.”
Safety is a concern for most of the trans community. Harassment, discrimination and transphobic violence statistics are difficult to track, as they are often filed under sexual orientation-based hate crimes, if reported at all.
Although unrecorded, estimates of violence are high and the effects are all too real. According to a study conducted by TransPulse, 75 per cent of trans people have considered suicide.
Quinn Blue, a student at the University of Ottawa, attended the vigil out of respect and frustration for the victims’ deaths.
“It’s really essential we’re paying honour to people’s lives we’ve lost,” Blue says. “But it’s also important to recognize that trans folks experience all sorts of violence, whether it kills them or not.”
Blue agrees the criminalization of sex work plays a role in trans violence along with other intersections such as race and class, but that society’s perception of trans people is to blame.
“I’m sick of transphobia killing people.” Blue says. “Trans people aren’t validated and valued, so trans folks are considered to be disposable.”
Thomas says the only way to stop the violence is through education and events like TDOR.
“Anything we can do to raise awareness that violence is happening and educate people, reduce their fear and increase their acceptance will work out better for trans people so there won’t be violence in the future.”
Steffanie Pinch is rabble.ca’s intern for managing and building its Activist Toolkit. For more information on the Activist Toolkit, click here.