Pride North of 55 held a gathering at the Thompson Public Library Nov. 20 to observe Transgender Day of Remembrance.
Coral Bielak of Pride North of 55 said that the day is intended to remember transgender people who died because of suicide or violence. A transgender person is someone whose personal sense of identity and gender does not correspond with their biological sex.
According to a display board set up in the library, LGBTQ2IA* (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, two-spirited, intersex and asexual) people are more likely experience homelessness, physical and sexual harassment, to be the victims of assault and to attempt or think about suicide than the population at large.
“Canada doesn’t currently have any stats on the murder and suicide rates of transgender people,” Bielak said. “They only recently started properly recording transgender people when it comes to those stats so they haven’t been published yet.”
Bielak then related the story of her friend Sage Marcinyshyn of Gillam, who died by suicide in May 2019 at the age of 23.
“Sage had a lot of mental health issues and a lot of people, even medical staff and emergency personnel didn’t always understand,” Bielak said. “Almost no one was willing to use Sage’s pronouns or acknowledge who they really were. Sage was called a liar, manipulative, attention seeker. Maybe Sage was some of those things sometimes but, most importantly, Sage was a human being. They had feelings, they had hopes and dreams, they had a beautiful mind and they were an incredible artist. They were wonderful, smart, funny and so talented. Sage’s death was tragic and come afar too soon. Sage was more than just a statistic. Sage was more than just an example of how broken the system is and the consequences of hatred and ignorance. Sage was my friend.”
Bielak concluded her introductory remarks with a symbolic candle-lighting ceremony.
“I hope today we can help relight the hope lost from those who are gone and spark a new flame of tolerance, acceptance and change by remembering that we are still here,” said Bielak. “We are people just like you and we deserve to be here just as much as anyone.”
Freddy Routhier, a Pride North of 55 board member who identifies as agender, two-spirited and trans masculine – “I tend to think of myself as more of a masculine, male-aligned person” – said Transgender Day of Remembrance is away to call attention to the struggles of transgender people.
“We are a minority population that is at risk for a lot of violence and a lot of suicide and a lot of mental health probelms. We’re at high risk for substance abuse. We need to take a moment to reflect on those we’ve lost to those issues over the past year and then move forward and question how can we build a safer community for trans people.”
Routhier’s husband Jackson Towans, who primarily identifies as trans male, said he has experienced suicidal thoughts and actions.
“I personally have struggled a lot with suicide. I’ve attempted about 13 times. I’ve lost friends to suicide. I think it’s just important to remember and to think about what progress you make, the fact that I am still alive. It’s important to think about who didn’t make it because I’ve been there and I know how hard it was.”
He also said others shouldn’t worry about those who don’t identify as their biological sex.
“At the end of the day, if no one is hurting you, mind your business. What do you care what I think of myself?"
Routhier encourages anyone interested in LGBTQ2IA issues in Thompson to join Pride North of 55.
“We just hope that we can move forward with Pride North of 55 and create more resources in Thompson for people because that’s always what we’re striving to do, “ Routhier said. “I know there are people out there who would be great and I’m just encouraging people to come out and to participate in Pride.”
Manitoba’s NDP party called on Progressive Conservative Premier Brian Pallister Nov. 22 to take action to allow for gender-neutral government-issued identification. NDP Union Station MLA Uzoma Asagwara introduced a bill in the legislature to amend the Vital Statistics Act to give people the option of changing the male or female designation on their birth certificates to a gender-neutral identifier. The bill was previously brought forward prior to the September election being called. This month, the Manitoba Human Rights Commission ordered the provincial government to begin offering non-binary sex designations on birth certificates within 180 days.