Without struggle no progress

Embracing the transgender community

“My name is Krista Renee Easter. I am a chef I am a mother (with two of the most beautiful daughters anyone could ask for) I am a veteran I am a skier I am a hiker and I am a downhill mountain biker. I am all these things and more.”

— Krista Renee Easter 1981-2011

On November 20 thousands of people from all over the world participated in the transgender day of remembrance a day to reflect on transgender individuals killed in the past year due to transphobia.

Krista Renee Easter was one such individual but her death was a suicide. Suffering from depression she epitomized the plight of many transgender individuals.

Transgender day of remembrance began in 1998 as a means of memorializing the murder of Rita Hester in Massachusetts. It has evolved from a web-based project to an international day of action observed in over 185 cities worldwide.

A record audience of 62 people including trans-individuals and their allies attended Calgary’s transgender day of remembrance this year.

One of the organizers Lyn Baer saw a need to continue the event after previous organizers were unable to keep it going. “It was natural for me to fill that gap as it is a vital event that needs to happen.”

The transgender agenda is very close to Baer’s heart. Not only is she a major player in the Calgary LGBTQ movement she is also the national chair for Telus’s LGBTQ employee network Spectrum. She is a mother of two and the partner of a trans-woman Brianne Langille a prominent member of the Trans-Equality Society of Alberta (TESA).

“One of the biggest issues facing the trans community is visibility. The ‘T’ in our acronym LGBTQ (lesbian gay bisexual transgender and queer) is not supported as well as the others; it is marginalized” says Baer.

I have to be honest. As an individual who is engrossed in queer culture I know little to nothing about the T-side. I don’t know what it’s like to be unfamiliar with my own body. I was born a female and I know that is who I am. I will never know what it is like to be transgender but I know that to be an even stronger member of my community I need to understand.

“If I could tell the world anything it would be to shut up and listen” says Baer. “My family has the exact same challenges as everyone else and we also have unique challenges like everyone else. If you stop looking at the differences and look at the similarities we can build that bridge.”

Langille was elated by the attendance and camaraderie at the remembrance day but she is well aware that there is still so much more to do. “What we need from the community is support. People need to come and volunteer with us and I would love it if people would join TESA and gain knowledge to support us and to fund us in our endeavours.” Membership fees are the organization’s only source of income.

Not only is emotional support needed an understanding of transitioning (physically changing to your chosen gender) is critical.

Imagine feeling as if you are not in the right body. You have facial hair or you don’t have enough. Your voice is too low or not low enough. You have breasts when you know they shouldn’t be there. Imagine that you finally take the necessary steps to transition into your actual self and realize that in order to do so you need upwards of $100000. Think about it. For most of us a change into our “real” selves involves a bottle of hair dye or an appointment at the nearest dermatologist. For those transitioning it often involves breast augmentation gender reassignment surgery (for genitals) facial reconstruction hormones therapy… the list goes on.

There is no funding for this difficult and expensive process — that was taken away by the Alberta government a couple of years ago in order to save a measly $800000 a year.

As I watched the memorial from my chair in the back of the room the emotion was overwhelming. As the names of 23 individuals murdered this year were read the tears started flowing. A trans-woman sitting next to me named Emma was quietly tearing up in her chair. As if she was my friend I put my hand on her shoulder to let her know I was there. I had never met her before. She broke down and started crying on my shoulder. It was almost too much for her to bear.

My urge to make sure Emma knew that I was there for her was a sentiment felt throughout the room. “The thing about the queer community in Calgary is that we can relate not only on a professional basis but also on a personal one” says Justine Bonczek a speaker at the remembrance ceremony and a facilitator at Mosaic a queer youth group. “It is good to have an emotional connection.”

We need to be better at understanding our fellow citizens whether you’re part of that LGBTQ acronym or not. People are dying due to our lack of understanding. This needs to stop.