News  Transgender Day of Remembrance in Montreal

Organizers centre vigil on trans women of colour

On November 20, a group of about 25 people gathered at Norman Bethune Square for a candlelight vigil to honour the lives of the people who were killed last year as a result of anti-trans* violence.

The vigil, organized by Samuel Theodore Bae and Ché Baines of Queer Concordia, was one of the many vigils held across Canada and the U.S. for Transgender Day of Remembrance (TDoR). TDoR began in 1998 in response to the murder of Rita Hester, a trans woman of colour, and has since been held annually to memorialize the people murdered due to anti-trans* violence and hatred.

At last Wednesday’s vigil, members of the crowd formed a circle around the names of the dead, written on paper bags containing lit candles. “[The candles are for] 65 people who are specifically being honoured this year,” explained Baines.

Bae welcomed everyone to the vigil and spoke about the nature of violence against the trans* community, emphasizing the fact that the majority of people killed as a result of anti-trans* violence are trans women of colour.

“It is our responsibility to create spaces in which trans women of colour feel safe while they are alive, instead of just honouring their memory,” said Bae. “[It is our responsibility] to create safe spaces, act in solidarity, build intersectionality, [and] fight for the lives of those who were lost.”

The names, ages, and locations of each of the dead were read aloud by the attendees from a list that was passed around. However, Bae told the group beforehand that some of the causes of death – stabbing, gunshot wounds, torture, beatings, stoning, and dismemberment – had been excluded. “I’ve made the decision to keep out the causes of death with the disclaimer that we do this for the benefit of trans* people present, who face these fears, live with these fears in mind […] on a daily basis.”

After the reading of the names, Bae invited anyone who wished to speak to step forward and share their story. Kai Cheng Thom, a McGill student and Daily columnist, read an open letter, previously published in The Daily, to Islan Nettles – a trans woman brutally murdered in August.

“It’s difficult to share, I think, in spaces like this, where most of us don’t know each other,” said Thom, “but I think it’s important […] that if we’re going to talk about trans women, then at least one of us should speak.”

“It is our responsibility to create spaces in which trans women of colour feel safe while they are alive.”

Bae concluded the vigil by stressing the overwhelming representation of trans women of colour among the dead. “It is no mistake to say that trans women of colour are our most vulnerable demographic,” Bae said. Of the 65 names on the list, 45 were from South or Central America, with 33 hailing from Brazil, and 7 from Mexico.
While the main purpose of the vigil was to commemorate those murdered, the vigil also aimed to make a statement.

“Transgender Day of Remembrance is run by an organization of women who very purposely exclude racial discussions from the official communications,” said Bae. “I wanted to make a vigil in which we subvert how Transgender Day of Remembrance usually goes by their standards to make it very trans-women-of-colour-centric, and to honour that demographic.”