“We can’t celebrate in person, but NUPGE is proud to celebrate Transgender Day of Visibility. We stand by our transgender members and transgender friends, family members, and neighbours, and we promise to keep fighting against discrimination in the legal system and in society.” — Bert Blundon, NUPGE Secretary-Treasurer
Ottawa (31 March 2021) — Transgender Day of Visibility was first celebrated in 2009. Prior to 2009, Transgender Day of Remembrance was one of the only commemorative days that acknowledged the transgender community. Transgender activist Rachel Crandall-Crocker created the day to celebrate transgender people who are living. Over the years, Transgender Day of Visibility has evolved into a global celebration of hope and empowerment for the transgender community.
Celebrating transgender Canadians
For Transgender Day of Visibility 2021, the National Union of Public and General Employees (NUPGE) is sharing the stories of a few transgender Canadians of note. We hope their stories will be read and celebrated by our members across the country.
Ravyn Wngz — a 2Spirit Afro-Indigenous abolitionist and storyteller. Wngz is a member of Black Lives Matter Toronto, a co-founder of ILL NANA/DiverseCity Dance Company, and the artistic director of Outrageous Victorious Africans Collective (OVA). Wngz went viral on social media last year after she gave a powerful and authentic speech, unscripted, at a news conference calling for the defunding of the police.
Vivek Shraya — a multidiscipline artist whose works have spanned music, literature, visual art, theatre, and film. Shraya has been nominated for multiple awards across disciplines, including the Polaris Music Prize and the Lambda Literary Award (six times), and has won the South Asia Book Award for multiple works. Shraya is also an Assistant Professor of Creative Writing at the University of Calgary and the founder of the publishing imprint VS. Books (Vivek Shraya).
Monica Forrester — the Education and Outreach Coordinator at Maggie's Toronto Sex Worker's Action Project, one of Canada's oldest by and for sex worker support organizations. A Two-Spirit transgender woman, Forrester is a passionate advocate for transgender rights, rights for sex workers, and affordable housing. In 2004, Forrester founded Trans Pride Toronto: Transitioning Together to "improve the lives and well-being of Trans/2Spirit, Black, and Non Binary identities who experience homelessness, marginalization, poverty, and transphobia through low-barrier accessible and equitable access to housing, employment, harm-reduction services, and drop-in services to achieve health and well-being in their lives," (Trans Pride Toronto: Transitioning Together). She is also a member of the City of Toronto's Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer and Two Spirit (LGBTQ2S+) Council Advisory Body.
Elliot Page — an actor and LGBTQI2S+ activist. Page has been a rising star in the film industry since he was a teenager, his breakout role coming when he played the lead role in the comedy-drama film Juno. Page has been nominated for dozens of acting awards, including an Academy Award and a Golden Globe. Page is also on the Board of Directors at the Tegan and Sara Foundation, whose mission is to “improve the lives of LGBTQ+ women and girls. This mission is founded on a commitment to feminism and racial, social and gender justice,” (Tegan and Sara Foundation).
Kael McKenzie — a member of the Manitoba Métis Nation and a judge on the Provincial Court of Manitoba. In 2015, McKenzie made history by becoming the first transgender person to be appointed as a judge in Canada. McKenzie was the first person in his family to go to university. He is also a member of the Canadian Bar Association’s Well-Being subcommittee and was formerly the Manitoba chair of the Canadian Bar Association. McKenzie is also a former president of the provincial Rainbow Resource Centre (UM Today: The Magazine).
Transgender people face high levels of discrimination and violence
Though Transgender Day of Visibility is primarily a celebration of transness, we would be remiss to not mention the discrimination transgender people experience in all levels of society.
Transgender people experience discrimination in health care, largely because governments don’t collect sufficient amounts of data on transgender experiences to make informed policy decisions (The Walrus). A survey of 2,800 transgender and non-binary people in Canada found that “80 per cent of trans and non-binary respondents reported having a primary care provider, 45 per cent also said they’d experienced having one or more unmet health care need within the past year. In a comparison, only four per cent of the general population reported having an unmet medical need in 2015/2016, the most recent year that comparable variables were published,” (CTV News).
Transgender people are more likely to become homeless, particularly as young people, because their family rejects their identity. Transgender youth also report significantly higher levels of verbal and physical harassment at school (Trans Equality). Transgender people are more likely to experience sexual harassment in the workplace (Statistics Canada). The unemployment rate for transgender people is significantly higher than the national average (Trans Equality). Overall, transgender people are more worried about being stopped by the police than cisgender people, with Black and Indigenous transgender people being significantly more worried (Trans Pulse Canada). All transgender people are at a higher risk for violence than cisgender people, and BIPOC transgender folks are at an even higher risk for violence (Huffington Post).
COVID-19 also hit transgender people harder than it hit the cisgender population, both in terms of who was at risk of contracting the virus (due to occupation, housing, and need to keep working for economic reasons), and being hit harder by the economic and social impact of lockdowns. For folks on the fringe of society who rely on community connections for safety and family, the impact of lockdowns and physical distancing continues to be devastating to their mental health.
When planning the transition to a post-COVID-19 world, governments must include input from transgender people and take serious action to plan for an economy and society that lets transgender people thrive. There should be no talk of returning to normal, when our normal was seriously harming transgender people.
We need more visibility for transgender people
Representation matters. We need to see stories in the news and fictional accounts of transgender people living their lives to the fullest. We need to see transgender success stories. We need to see front-page news that celebrates transgender people excelling in business, in academics, and in politics. We need to see news about transgender people beyond reports of their murders.
We need to see transgender characters who are more than just their gender identity and expression. We need transgender characters who are messy and complicated, the same way all humans are messy and complicated. We need to see transgender characters in stories for all ages, and across all genres and mediums of fiction.
We need all this and more, because we need everyone to view transgender people as belonging to society. When a transgender person is murdered, or takes their own life, it shouldn’t just be the transgender community that mourns them and fights for justice. When a transgender person finds success, it shouldn’t just be the transgender community that celebrates with them. It should be all of us.
“We can’t celebrate in person, but NUPGE is proud to celebrate Transgender Day of Visibility. We stand by our transgender members and transgender friends, family members, and neighbours, and we promise to keep fighting against discrimination in the legal system and in society,” said Bert Blundon, NUPGE Secretary-Treasurer. “Bill C-16 was only the beginning. We must keep working to ensure the lives and health of transgender people are valued and protected as much as the lives of their cisgender peers.”
The National Union of Public and General Employees (NUPGE) is one of Canada's largest labour organizations with over 390,000 members. Our mission is to improve the lives of working families and to build a stronger Canada by ensuring our common wealth is used for the common good. — NUPGE