A small crowd gathered in the cold of a clear winter night at a vigil held for the Transgender Day of Remembrance, Nov. 20. It’s a day intended to recognize transgender people who have died because of their identity and for transgender people and their allies to take time to reflect on how to better the community for everyone.
The vigil was thanks to a partnership between Fierté Sudbury Pride and Réseau ACCESS Network and it offered a chance to mourn, to give voice to the marginalized trans and non-binary people, and to hope that the list of the dead that is read at the end of each vigil will be shorter than the previous year.
But sadly, with 327 lives lost to violence against transgender people in 2022, in addition to the lives lost due to self-harm, the violence only continues.
Just the day before, on Nov. 19, a 22-year-old gunman entered an LGBTQ+ nightclub called Club Q in Colorado Springs, Colorado. Just before midnight he opened fire, killing at least five people and injuring 25 others, before patrons confronted and stopped him.
There were several transgender and non-binary people who spoke at the event, many telling their personal stories, and others, to offer those in attendance a clearer understanding of the types of transphobia that can be the most damaging.
“Sam” told the gatherers at the vigil the personal story of coming out to his parents. He practiced, saying the words to himself over and over, and even positioned himself in the room so that he might be able to manoeuvre his wheelchair easily to escape. He was lucky, he said, that with time his family came around to the idea, and now uses his pronouns. It isn’t that way for everyone, however.
“All I could think about as this was happening, as the wave of relief rushed through me, I thought about all of the people who didn't have the luxury of being accepted in such a way,” Sam said. “I thought about the people kicked out of their houses just for being gay or trans, I thought about those who were ending their lives because they couldn't be themselves.”
Sam ended his speech with a call to those who didn’t have the opportunity to come out in safety. “We as a collective need to stand strong so that everyone has their chance to shine. No matter what the government says, no matter what the political party will tell you, no matter what the church says, no matter what circumstances you grew up in,” Sam said. “We need to have the strength to stand in front of all of these people who think that we're wrong, who think that we're monsters, and we need to show them that we're fighting for our rights.”
One of the organizers, Aspen Groom (they/them) told Sudbury.com at the event that what is needed is stable financial support from political officials and the community.
Groom heads up the gender-affirming care program at Réseau ACCESS Network, a program run entirely off of fundraising. Proving, they say, the need and desire for care in the community, but not enough to sustain the program.
“We see support during Pride, we see support during a handful of events, but it needs to be consistent, and it needs to be supported, and not just by their words, but by the decisions and voting that they're making in the legislature,” said Groom.
“Time and time again, we see people who are sitting at the margins and at the intersectionality of challenges, and we're not getting any recognition of needs for support,” they said. “When we think of Transgender Day of Remembrance, it comes from a place of needing to remember and acknowledge and provide care for those who are continuously living at those margins, and experiencing violence, and even in the most extreme cases, experiencing murder.”
Groom also offered tips for those who would like to support people in their journey to understanding their gender identity.
“We can educate ourselves, know what's available, and ask questions,” Groom said. “If you are a teacher, for instance, and you're working with trans youth, know where you can refer students, help them find those resources, and support them. Educate yourself so that you can support others.”
Sam closed his speech with words of love and caring. “To anyone here tonight and to everyone else who needs to hear this: I really hope you stay. I hope your candle never goes out. I hope you find the strength within yourself to be comfortable in your skin. And I hope that we can all help each other to continue to persist.”
Jenny Lamothe is a reporter with Sudbury.com. She covers the diverse communities of Sudbury, especially the vulnerable or marginalized, including the Black, Indigenous, newcomer and Francophone communities, as well as 2SLGBTQ+ and issues of the downtown core.