Editor’s Note: this story contains discussions of violence and suicide. 24-hour support is available through Talk Suicide at 1-833-456-4566, and though Alberta Health Services at 1-877-303-2642.
Calgarians gathered on Sunday to remember those who have lost their lives due to transphobia.
The solemn remembrance of those victims comes in the wake of a mass shooting in Colorado, which killed five and wounded many more at a well known LGTBQ club.
The attack was the latest in an escalating series of hate crimes, often politically motivated by growing anti-Transgender sentiment in the far-right, that have shocked the LGBTQ community across Canada and the United States.
Anna Murphy, visitor engagement and volunteer coordinator with Contemporary Calgary, who organized this year’s remembrance ceremonies, said the attacks were a reminder that violence against transgender people has no borders.
“[Canada’s] not immune to it, because as folks will see, the youngest person on the list this here is a kiddo by the name of Alex Bastien, who was 10 years old, who committed suicide,” Murphy said.
“Canada is not immune to hate, and we need to recognize that.”
Bastien, who was suffering from precocious puberty, was bullied at school for his gender identity.
According to the Centre for Suicide Prevention, two-thirds of transitioning people thought about suicide, and one-in-three trans youth attempt suicide each year.
Attended by dignitaries, but not the focus of the day
The ceremonies were attended by members of government including Coun. Courtney Walcott, Coun. Kourtney Penner, Coun. Terry Wong, Mayor Jyoti Gondek, MLAs Leela Aheer, Kathleen Ganley, and Joe Ceci, and Minister of Trade, Immigration and Multiculturalism Rajan Sawhney, and Lieutenant Governor Salma Lakhani.
Minister Sawhney was praised by Skipping Stone co-founder Amelia Marie Neubert for showing up to the day of remembrance, despite organizers not giving members of the United Conservative Party a platform to speak.
The minister reached out to organizers prior to the event about attending.
“I think a lot of the clients that Skipping Stone represents in a lot of the community aren’t sure how to engage with our current provincial government, and are worried about potentially a history of harm that’s come from some of the people in this government. So, we expressed we really want you to join us, but we don’t quite feel comfortable as a community, as the people we represent, to necessarily have you speak,” Neubert said.
“I think the fact that she’s chosen to show up, to listen, to engage, even though she wasn’t given a platform speaks a lot to generosity, it speaks a lot to grace, and I think it shows a really powerful gesture towards authentic leadership.”
Murphy said that despite the support of political figures, the focus for the day needed to be on the youngest transgender children and their allies.
“More important than Her Honour, more important than Her Worship, more important than anyone with a long title is the kiddos that are here today and also who are not here today who are going to see this and say ‘wow, Calgary, my community, my neighbourhood, my province cares about me at a time when they might not be feeling that,” Murphy said.
The ceremonies ended with the Anacrusis Music and Skipping Stone’s Queer Youth Choir performing songs by Lil Nas X and K.D. Lang.
Rae, 8, and one of the choir singers said that it was important for respect to be given transgender and non-binary people.
“I love my choir because they really respect people. I’m really excited to get up on the stage and start singing my heart out,” Rae said.
Need to do more as a society
Mayor Jyoti Gondek said talking about transgender violence in the wake of the Colorado shooting was tragic.
“I think the fact that we have to have a Transgender Day of Remembrance should remind us all of how much more we need to do as a society. We need to be allies. We need to protect people. We need to understand that,” the mayor said.
“All life is beautiful and it matters, and hearing about the news in Colorado Springs is absolutely devastating. On Transgender Day of Remembrance, we are now mourning the loss of life over an act of violence that remains to be seen if it was targeted in its nature, but the fact that we’re even talking about this today is tragic.”
The mayor has strong words for the rise of hate and transphobia across both borders.
“My response to people who choose to engage in transphobia is get over it,” she said.
“People are people, trans people are people. Trans women are women, trans men are men, and trans kids deserve our protection, our love and our support. Get over your hate, get over your polarization, and get on with allowing people to live their lives.”
She said that the whether someone was trans was no one’s business but their own.
“It is absolutely none of your business and it doesn’t affect you at all how someone identifies,” the mayor said.
“Someone being trans does not affect you in any meaningful way other than the fact that that person may be a damn good doctor, lawyer, bus driver, whatever it happens to be that helps you lead your best life.”
Not the first day of remembrance for the city, but the first together
Although this was not the first Transgender Day of Remembrance commemorated in the city of Calgary, it was the first indoors where participants could connect with groups like Outline, Skipping Stone, and the Centre for Sexuality.
“This is the first year that I’ve brought everyone together, but it’s not the first year that this day or days like it have been important to to me, because the very real reality is I should be on that list,” said Murphy.
Murphy spoke deeply about her own experience of nearly committing suicide on the High Level Bridge in Edmonton, and of the scars she bears from other suicide attempts.
“I grew up in rural Alberta with non supportive parents. I grew up without incredible organizations like Skipping Stone. I grew up without a community showing up, and so for whatever reason… I didn’t let go when I was on the edge of the High Level Bridge, I didn’t cut deep enough for all the multiple times that I tried,” Murphy said.
“I don’t know why I’m here, but for as long as I am and with whatever little bit of privilege and influence that I do have, those kids that are up in that front audience, I don’t want them to have the same scars I have.”