The Transgender Day of Remembrance is being recognized by the City of Prince Rupert for the first time this year.
On November 20, at 6 p.m. outside city hall, Ashley Wilson is guiding a vigil where she will read the names of transgender people who have been killed in the past 12 months.
“This is something that started nearly 10 years ago and last year was the deadliest year for trans people worldwide. Those numbers could be skewed, there could be more reports on trans deaths, so we’re not sure if it’s an actual rise in violence or just more reporting on it, but the numbers aren’t going down,” Wilson said.
Last year was considered one of the deadliest years for transgender people with 28 murders reported in the United States. Recent statistics from GLAAD Media show that in 2018 there have been reports of 21 transgender people who lost their lives as a result of anti-trans hate in the U.S. There could be many more.
In Canada, there have been five reported murders between 2008-2014, according to Trans Murder Monitoring Project, but this number doesn’t reflect the survivors of violence and discrimination.
Transgender Day of Remembrance started in 1999 by advocate Gwendolyn Ann Smith,who wanted to honour the memory of Rita Hester, a transgender woman who was violently killed in 1998. Since then, vigils are held across the world on Nov. 20 to recognize the ongoing violence and harassment against transgender and gender non-conforming people.
Wilson attended the Transgender Day of Remembrance event in Victoria last year and thought of bringing it to Prince Rupert.
“We don’t really have pride events that happen here, period,” she said. “Other than the sidewalk that Christine [Danroth] fundraised for, there just hasn’t been any sort of events that create community and show that there’s a community here of allies.”
Now, more than ever, she feels it’s time to recognize such a significant day. There has been a rise in anti-trans sentiment coming from the United States, and she feels that it’s important to recognize that violence is still happening toward marginalized people.
Three years ago, Wilson transitioned and was scared about what she would face in doing so.
While Charles Hays Secondary School has the Gay Straight Alliance, there isn’t a LGBT or pride society for adults in Prince Rupert. Living in a small northern B.C. city, Wilson said she felt afraid for her own personal safety.
“It’s a scary place to feel accepted and to think will you be okay. I’m pleasantly surprised that I’ve been very much accepted. I have a great group of friends and I have a lot of support from my peers and that’s amazing, but I wasn’t sure what I would face,” she said.
There are pride movements growing in Prince Rupert, with the Cow Bay rainbow crosswalk painted in 2016, the school district introduced gender neutral bathrooms in 2017, the RCMP-led Safe Place program collaborated with businesses earlier in 2018, and in October, the LGBT-themed podcast, Rainbow Nation, with Christine Danroth and Russel Adams was launched.
Then on Oct. 24, Wilson delivered a request that council raise the Transgender and Pride flags during the week of Nov. 19 to honour the day of remembrance.
“I think we need to do more to show people in all marginalized groups that we actually do care about them,” she said.
In a meeting held on Nov. 1, council passed the proclamation to recognized the Transgender Day of Remembrance, but disallowed raising the flag.
Acting mayor Barry Cunningham said they have received about five or six requests to raise a flag at city hall, and so far they’ve said ‘no’ to every request.
“We’re doing the Transgender Week announcement but we’re not going to raise any flags until we come up with a proper policy just to make sure that we’re covering all basis,” he said.
While Wilson said she’s disappointed the city didn’t want to raise the flag, she said maybe they can move forward with it in the future. The city is currently working on a flag policy.
Cunningham said he didn’t realize how big Transgender Week was.
“I think it’s a great idea. I really do believe that we have to get this stuff out there and get it into the community,” he said.
For residents who want to show support and take part in the Transgender Day of Remembrance, the event takes place outside city hall on Nov. 20, 6-8 p.m. After the names of victims have been read, participants are welcome to warm up inside Javadotcup, which has donated their space for free after the event. All are welcome.
“I think allyship is super important and by showing up to something like this you’re sending a message that you care about those people too,” Wilson said.