Toronto homicide victim remembered as outspoken advocate for transgender rights

Julie Berman, 51, died on Sunday after an alleged assault at a residence in downtown Toronto. Twitter / @PrideToronto

TORONTO – Friends are remembering a Toronto woman who was killed on Sunday as an outspoken advocate for transgender rights and a strong voice against the violence that impacts her community.

Julie Berman, 51, died on Sunday after an alleged assault at a residence in the city’s downtown.

“She was vocal about transphobia and was always working on education so that there would be better acceptance of the LGBT community,” Berman’s friend, Davina Hader, said in a phone interview Friday.

The two met through events in Toronto’s LGBTQ community, and each was an activist in their own way, Hader said.

“She was, honestly, a beautiful person. She had a very strong aura about her, it’s just very sad,” Hader said. “There’s no reason this should have happened, it’s just tragic.”

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Det. Rob Choe of the Toronto police homicide squad said Berman died of “blunt-impact trauma” to her head that investigators believe was caused by a weapon. He declined to provide further details.

Choe said officers responded to a call for an assault on Sunday afternoon and immediately arrested a man at the scene.

Colin Harnack, 29, of Toronto, has been charged with second-degree murder.

On Friday, Berman’s friends recalled her generosity – and ferocity – as she fought to improve the lives of those in the trans community.

She had helped out with various events at The 519, an LGBTQ charity in Toronto, over the last 30 years, they said. Berman worked on the charity’s Trans Access project, an education program that focused on needs in the trans community.

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“Julie has suffered violence in the past and it’s important that we remember her advocacy in openly willing to talk about what happens inside the trans community, and her ability to advocate for rights of all members, that made the community better,” said Olivia Nuamah, the executive director of Pride Toronto.

Susan Gapka got to know Berman through community events such as the Trans Day of Remembrance, which celebrates and honours “the lives of trans-identified people who have passed away due to transphobia, hate crimes, illness, substance use, suicide, or murder.”

“We’ve been on the same platform speaking out against the violence which in turn became her last struggling moments,” Gapka said.

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“When it’s someone you know as a community member, someone who is as cheerful and lovely as Julie, it really strikes hard on the heart.”

Gapka said Berman’s death reminds her there is much work to do on strengthening transgender rights.

“We do need to talk about this violence and how to respond to this violence,” Gapka said. “It’s very important and it’s also something Julie would do in the same situation.”

That work will continue, she said.

“We’re hoping one day not to have a Trans Day of Remembrance, but that’s not today,” Gapka said.

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