Over 24-hours at Central Memorial Park on Monday, Calgarians gathered to remember those lost and to celebrate those who have found fellowship amongst the transgender community.
Nov. 20 marked the 24th anniversary of the day, which began in 1999 in remembrance of Rita Hester and Chanelle Pickett—two black transgender women who were both murdered in Massachusetts.
At Central Memorial Park, the evening was marked by speeches from members of the transgender community, and by politicians who for a second year in a row, made promises to do more to stop violence and hate.
The previous year’s remembrance was held just hours after a shooting in Colorado at Club Q, an LGBTQ nightclub, which left five dead and 25 injured, and this year’s remembrance after a year of hate-filled protests in Calgary and elsewhere against the transgender community.
“We wanted to do something powerful. We wanted to do something for the whole day. We didn’t want to just do an event. We wanted to do something that’s a gathering point, and that’s been the really heartwarming part of this not celebration, but this memorial, because it’s given a chance for people to come together and reflect and connect and remember that there’s other people out there like them,” said Dr. Victoria Bucholtz, organizer for the event at Central Memorial Park.
“It’s actually put a note of optimism and hope to this somber day because yes, we are here gathered to commemorate those who have died, but we are also here as living people to fight like hell to keep going.”
Dr. Bucholtz said that the day has taken on a new level of importance because of the level of violence and erasure that transgender individuals have been subjected to—both from physical violence including murder, and from far-right political movements which seek to de-humanize, stigmatize, and erase transgender individuals from society.
“For example, in the United States this year, over 500 pieces of legislation against trans communities have been initiated. Now a lot of those bills didn’t take place, but over 100 did get enacted. We’re seeing that creep into Canada,” Bucholtz said.
“We’re starting to see that rhetoric fly up into Canada. We’re seeing it with Scott Moe and Saskatchewan. We’re seeing it with Pierre Poilievre calling it gender ideology, which it’s not.”
Among the issues of transphobia that Dr. Bucholtz cited, were oft-repeated slurs of transgender individuals being pedophiles or child groomers. Insults have been frequently thrown towards the transgender community at protest rallies against drag shows held in Calgary.
“When they talk about us as groomers and pedophiles, they stopped seeing the humanity and the reality that actually statistically trans people are far less likely to be pedophiles and to hurt children,” Bucholtz said.
“To score cheap political points, they’re really playing a very dangerous game. They are dehumanizing a marginalized population and then asking for that population to be reduced or eliminated.”
Politicians promise to do more to protect transgender community
Mayor Jyoti Gondek, speaking at the commemoration at Central Memorial Park, said that what she has seen been perpetrated against the transgender community has been deplorable.
“What we have seen in the last few years is deplorable in the way that people have come together to under the guise of protest or demonstration, say vile things, do vile things and make you feel unsafe,” the mayor said.
“That is not how you should feel in the place that you call home. You should feel that you belong. You should feel that you are loved. You should feel that you can be your absolute authentic self. Unfortunately, right now, I fear that you don’t feel safe,” she said.
She said that she along with her City Council colleagues have done what they can to ensure that people are not threatened in Calgary.
“I think it’s important to acknowledge that fear exists. That fear leads to feelings of isolation and feelings of not being welcomed. So, I’m here with you to say I see you, I hear you. I understand the fear, and I understand the anger… we cannot judge people based on how they identify and who they love,” Mayor Gondek said.
Calgary-Foothills MLA Court Ellingson, one of only three openly gay members of the Alberta Legislature, shared at times his own tearful experiences engaging with a young member of the transgender community who had been evacuated from the NWT, and ended up in his hometown of Valley View over the summer.
The person was 18 years old and they’d withdrawn from high school because they didn’t think it was safe to go to school, Ellingson said. They ended up not leaving their house alone in 18 months.
“I gotta say that anybody anywhere lives their life in this kind of fear, this world has got to be better. We can be better. We all know this isn’t an isolated story,” Ellingson said.
He said that Albertans must be bold in their allyship, and to reject the politics of fear and hate.
“Two-spirited transgender non-binary and gender diverse people, your existence isn’t an ideology. It isn’t a debate, it is an undeniable reality. Your rights are human rights.”
Ellingson took direct aim at the United Conservative Party, which recently passed policy positions against the transgender community at their annual general meeting, disallowing students to choose to use their preferred pronouns in schools without parental permission under the guise of promoting parental rights, and disallowing transgender women to be held in female correctional facilities.
Alberta Minister for Arts, Culture and Status of Women Tanya Fir, issued a statement on behalf of the Government of Alberta on Transgender Remembrance Day.
“On Transgender Day of Remembrance, we pause to honour and remember those who tragically lost their lives to violence and prejudice. It is a somber reflection of the harsh realities many transgender individuals face, both in Alberta and around the world,” she wrote.
“We not only mourn their loss, we are reminded of our collective responsibility to continue the fight for acceptance, understanding and equality. Transgender and gender-diverse individuals make vital contributions to our communities, enriching our province with their unique experiences, talents and perspectives. Every Albertan deserves to live authentically and without fear, regardless of gender identity or expression.
“Alberta’s government is firm in our commitment to build an inclusive and compassionate Alberta where everyone can thrive.”