Zoe Robinson says that she’s more than a transgender woman. She’s a father, sister, accountant, and non-profit executive, and as a human being each of these roles have been very important to her.
“(We need) to treat (trans people) as humans. Not to discriminate just because of who we are…and to know that they’re people who have lives, who are contributing to society, and deserve all the human rights and privileges,” said Robinson, a member of the 519 board of management, an organization in service of the 2SLGBTQ+ community in Toronto.
This right to be treated with respect, free of harassment and discrimination is a big part of what Transgender Day of Remembrance stands for.
The day, celebrated on Nov. 20, commemorates the lives of trans, two-spirit, and non-binary people who have lost their lives to transphobic violence, but according to Robinson, it’s also a day to celebrate the diversity and leadership that exists within the trans community and to be able to advocate for trans rights.
“Every trans person has a complexity around them that transcends just being transgender,” said Robinson.
“Being transgender is critical to who I am, but it is not the only thing about me. And people need to see the broad perspective and palette of who I am in order to truly respect and treat me with dignity,” she added.
Transgender Day of Remembrance — what is it?
According to the GLAAD website, Transgender Day of Remembrance was launched in 1999 “by transgender advocate Gwendolyn Ann Smith as a vigil to honour the memory of Rita Hester, a transgender woman who was killed in 1998.”
“The vigil commemorated all the transgender people lost to violence since Rita Hester’s death, and began an important tradition that has become the annual Transgender Day of Remembrance,” the website states.
Robinson referred to a 2020 report from Trans PULSE Canada, which suggests that trans and non-binary Canadians who also identify as, or are perceived or treated as, people of colour, face increased levels of physical violence, harassment, and sexual assault as compared to non-racialized trans and non-binary Canadians.
The Trans PULSE Canada project collected survey data from 2,873 trans and non-binary people in 2019.
According to the report, 72 per cent of racialized trans and non-binary respondents experienced verbal harassment in the last five years, compared to 68 per cent of non-racialized survey respondents.
Twenty-three per cent had experienced physical violence within the past five years, in comparison to 15 per cent of non-racialized respondents.
Moreover, 32 per cent of the racialized trans and non-binary respondents reported experiencing sexual assault within the past five years against 25 per cent of non-racialized respondents.
“These are horrible statistics that no one in any community should have to understand. Being targeted because you’re different from the rest of society and a small population is absolutely no reason to deny us (as) individuals and the treatment and respect we all deserve,” said Robinson.
What can be done to ensure support?
In order for things to improve and to ensure trans people are supported, Robinson says access to health care is integral — this includes receiving better mental health care and gender-affirming care coverage.
Global News previously reported that the ability for Canadians to access gender-affirming healthcare — including coverage, requirements and wait times — is different depending not only on what province or territory they live in but also on whether they reside in urban or rural areas.
“When it comes to supporting trans people, gender-affirming care is really critical…And more individuals are now seeking gender-affirming care at all ages,” said Robinson.
Other supports are important too, says Robinson, adding that allies can do a lot to better support trans people in their advocacy and in their everyday lives.
And they can do so “by asking trans people what pronouns they use,” said Robinson. She also stressed on the importance of having “allies who can ensure that jobs are available for transgender people.”
Ongoing issues with transphobia
Fae Johnstone, an advocate for LGBTQ+ rights and gender justice, is also calling for gender-affirming health care, better employment support, and overall action to back trans rights legislation.
“We’ve done a really good job on the legislative side of gay rights and trans rights in Canada, but across the board, lived experiences haven’t changed in the same way,” she told The Canadian Press on Friday.
Johnstone said she knows many people who are unable to get full-time work, which reflects ongoing issues with transphobia.
“It can be a hiring manager who doesn’t want to deal with a trans person’s pronouns that are different than they expected,” said Johnstone. “It can be a hiring manager who doesn’t want to have to manage other customers maybe being strange or discriminatory in the workplace towards a trans person.”
In the Ontario legislature this week, New Democrat member of provincial parliament Kristyn Wong-Tam reintroduced a private member’s bill calling on the health minister to create an advisory committee on gender-affirming care.
But a request for unanimous support for the bill to speed its passage did not get the support of the entire legislature.
“I just think that it was unfair for trans and gender diverse people to be once again asked to hang on and wait,” said Wong-Tam.
The bill is still before the legislature for debate. If it passes, it gives the health minister 60 days to appoint members to an advisory committee that will provide recommendations about what needs to change in the health-care system. It would also require a report to the legislature and a response from the minister.
A similar piece of legislation introduced more than a year ago by former member Suze Morrison failed to pass.
“I find it very troubling and small-minded on (the government’s) part, that they would not even advance something as simple as creating an advisory committee,” said Wong-Tam.
“It’s regrettable that people have to fight for what I believe is a basic right that’s afforded to every other Canadian, but somehow we have to fight. But it’s a just fight. And it’s a fight that’s worth winning.”
Robinson says the Trans Day of Remembrance highlights in part how “unfortunate” it is that “in today’s political environment, what we see as trans issues (are) being used and seen as wedge issues.”
“We’re normal people…Actively contributing (to) the communities as doctors, leaders, bankers, and teachers,” she said.
If you or someone you know needs help, please call the Trans Lifeline 1-877-330-6366.
— With files from The Canadian Press and Global News’ Emily Mertz