The City of New Westminster is highlighting the fact that transgender people in Canada and around the world are exposed to widespread discrimination, stigma, harassment and abuse by proclaiming Nov. 20 as Transgender Day of Remembrance.
The proclamation – a first by the City of New Westminster – states that transgender deaths as a result of violence are increasing worldwide each year and the issue requires the attention of policy makers at all levels of government.
New West resident Hailey Heartless told council Monday night that Transgender Day of Remembrance was originally founded in 1989 to memorialize the murder of Rita Hester, a African American trans woman who was murdered on Nov. 28, 1998 in Allston, Massachusetts. It has since evolved into an international day of action where the transgender community holds vigils and read the names of those who have lost their lives over the previous year.
“In the last 10 years, the Trans Murder Monitoring Project has recorded 2,982 murders of transgender and gender-diverse people worldwide,” Heartless said. “Each year, the numbers are climbing – 295 in 2016, 325 in 2017 and 369 this year. Discrimination against transgender people keeps us vulnerable,particularly when paired with overlapping oppressions such as racism, sexism, colonialism, ableism and sex work stigma.”
Heartless said 62 per cent of those murdered were sex workers and 85 per cent of those murdered in the United States were trans women of color or indigenous trans women.
“The intersectional problem of violence against transgender and gender diverse people requires intersectional solutions,” she told council. “Policy makers need to assure that organizations you support which offer services to women are also offering services to transgender women.”
Heartless said police and health-care services need to approach transgender people, particularly trans sex workers and indigenous trans people, with compassion rather than suspicion. She said schools need to advocate for resources like SOGI 123 (Sexual Orientation and Gender Identities), which work to protect gender creative children and the children of transgender adults from stigma and harassment from their peers.
For Transgender Day of Remembrance, Heartless encouraged people to take some time to reflect on those who have been murdered, as well as the countless unreported transgender lives lost to violence.
“I feel very honoured to be here today and hear this proclamation,” said Coun. Nadine Nakagawa. “I really want to commend the community member’s courage in speaking out. I know it is not easy and it attracts a lot of hate, a lot of violence. We have had a trans woman murdered in our community – January Lapuz, who I knew personally. She was a wonderful, vibrant young person who, like so many trans people, faced violence in her life.”
In September 2012, 26-year-old January Marie Lapuz was brutally attacked in her New Westminster home, an attack later revealed to be an alternation with a client over the price of a sexual encounter. Her story is told in a recently released documentary, My Name Was January.