ByLaura Finney GRAVENHURST - A small crowd braved the cold and gathered at the Centennial Centre skate park Nov. 20, to remember those lost to transgender violence.
Attendees’ faces were bathed in candlelight as local resident Lennox LePage led them in reflection and two minutes of silence.
LePage is transgender and he organized the vigil on International Transgender Remembrance Day with the help of Muskoka Pride.
“I feel like it’s close to my heart, and it’s also something that is becoming a little more accessible for people in general,” said LePage. “It’s something that’s out there, and ready to be seen and dealt with.”
International Transgender Remembrance Day has been marked since 1999 and began in the United States as a memorial to Rita Hester, a young transgender who was killed in Allston, Massachusetts. Now the day is recognized in several countries worldwide.
According to Transgender Europe’s Trans Murder Monitoring project, 236 transgendered people were reported murdered last year around the world, considered to be due to their transgender status. However, they estimate the actual number to be much larger.
LePage said he hopes exposure, with events like this one, will help make change.
“People aren’t necessarily against it (transgender); they don’t know,” he said. “They don’t know until they see it, until they hear about it, until they have a chance to meet somebody. Which is one of the reasons I’ve been as out as I have been.”
LePage grew up in Gravenhurst and transitioned a few years ago. He said he knows other transgendered people who moved into larger cities like Toronto, but he stayed, and that has caused its own challenges.
“Everyone knows me, it’s been good and it’s been bad,” he said. “It becomes difficult to leave behind, but also I haven’t experienced a lot of the negativity that other people have.”
But he has faced some prejudice.
“I have experienced some comments, but not outright violence,” He said. “I’m pretty lucky in that sense. “
Andrew Baker, secretary with Muskoka Pride, said events like this are important.
“It’s about education and awareness. It’s about outreach and it’s about community building,” he explained.
He said many people in smaller towns might not recognize transgender issues as something faced in their community.
“A lot of people, when they think of things like Trans Day of Remembrance, they are impacted by it,” he said. “But they don’t do anything about it because they don’t think it’s in their community.”
And he said the event does more than remember those lost.
“Holding an event in somewhere like Gravenhurst says … there are trans people in the community who need your support,” he explained. “I think that carries value, in terms of raising awareness about local community, but also impacting change.”
He said events like this have shaped public policy and changes in legislation. Last year Ontario included gender identity in the Human Rights Code.
“But that was a long journey of activism and awareness events such as today,” said Baker.
He also said events like this can have negative repercussions.
“The other thing that events like this do as well, too, sadly within some communities that are really experiencing transphobia, is increase transphobia,” he explained and said it is because publicity of these events can spark anger. “I think regardless of the response there is a positive, in a sense that it’s raising awareness and it’s impacting change.”
Both Baker and LePage said they think transgender violence comes from a lack of understanding and fear.
“I think for a lot of people, when they first encounter a transgender person, or they have that interaction, they have predisposed thoughts in their head,” Baker said and added those thoughts may be historic, religious or because they do not know or they think it’s wrong. “It becomes a place of judgment. Often times our first response is fight or flight.”
But, according to Baker, current gender ideas are fairly new.
“When you are talking about gender, the binary, as you call male and female, is not very old, and it’s very colonizational.”