Content warning: This article contains mentions of suicide and sexual assault.
Many of the signs and slogans on display explicitly attacked misogyny and gendered violence. Several attempted to put a subversive spin on Trump’s own rhetoric with slogans such as “pussy bites back” and “pussy power.”
While such messages are likely well-intentioned, critics have noted their cisnormative undertones; by conflating female sexual organs with womanhood and feminism, this kind of discourse effectively erases the identity and the struggles of trans women who were assigned male at birth.
To their credit, however, the organizers of the Montreal rally made a point of featuring a diverse series of speakers, many of whom stressed the importance of intersectionality.
Dalia Tourki, a local activist for trans migrants’ rights, reminded those present that for racialized trans women struggling for status, virulent discrimination and misogyny are nothing new.
“What the media don’t mention,” said Tourki, speaking in French, “is that since 2009, one trans person has been killed every three days. What the media don’t mention is that in 2016, 98 trans people were killed, the majority of whom were Black and Latina. I know that under Donald Trump, the number of trans women killed by the end of 2017 will be even greater. I know that under Trump, the conditions of trans migrant women will be worse. But I also know that we’re already there. We experience discrimination, we experience suffering, whether it’s under Trump, or Obama, or Trudeau, or [Quebec Premier Philippe] Couillard. […] But we survive. We know how to stay strong.”
In a subsequent email to The Daily, Tourki clarified that, in fact, the number of trans and gender-diverse people who were killed in 2016 was actually much higher: the total number of murders around the world was 237.
Rachel Zellars, a PhD candidate at McGill in the Department of Integrated Studies in Education and Executive Director of The Girls Action Foundation, spoke to the crowd with her daughter by her side, urging solidarity and self-criticism.
“The new election has also sent a strong reminder of the work to be done between women,” Zellars said. “A clear majority of the white female voters […] in the United States voted for Trump, despite his racism and misogyny.”
At this, the crowd booed enthusiastically.
“What the media don’t mention is that in 2016, 98 trans people were killed, the majority of whom were Black and Latina. I know that under Donald Trump, the number of trans women killed by the end of 2017 will be even greater.”
“This statistic does not come of thin air, everyone,” Zellars went on. “It is rooted in the troubled histories of our first and second waves of feminism throughout North America. […] Although it is tempting here today to dismiss all of these things and Trump as a condition of U.S. history, we must risk promoting very dangerous ignorance in this moment if we fail to now look inwards to ourselves, and fail to make the connections between xenophobia and imperialism here at home, and also abroad.”
“Here in Quebec,” she continued, “we have our own intolerance that are supported by a long history of KKK activity, neo-Nazi organizations, and hate crimes. […] We have so much work to do together, and we have never needed each other so much as in this very moment.”
Émilie Nicolas, of Inclusive Quebec, also denounced apathy and complacency, quoting Martin Luther King Jr.’s famous denunciation of “the white moderate who is more devoted to ‘order’ than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice.”
Leaders like Justin Trudeau and Philippe Couillard, she said, are guilty of this same ‘moderation,’ and their faux progressivism is a more insidious obstacle than Trump’s bigotry.
“The new election has also sent a strong reminder of the work to be done between women. A clear majority of the white female voters […] in the United States voted for Trump, despite his racism and misogyny.”
Gabriella Kinté, of Tout le Hood en Parle (“The whole hood’s talking about it”), a platform for the lived experiences of racialized people, echoed Zellars’ emphasis on examining local manifestations of oppression.
“We have a tendency to look at our neighbors, and forget what’s happening at home. Let us not close our eyes to inequality in the United States, nor to inequality in Quebec,” said Kinté, in French, to the crowd.
Kinté went on to say, “Yes, we must struggle together, but first we must unite, and to unite we must recognize that not all women are oppressed in the same way. For some, Trump’s words have been shocking, but for others, these words have simply openly revealed the nastiness they experience on a daily basis.”
As the crowd cheered, Kinté listed marginalized communities of women whose voices are often forgotten at high-profile rallies like this one: Indigenous women on reserves in Northern Quebec, women without status who are imprisoned in detention centers, women in working-class neighborhoods such as Parc Extension and Montreal-Nord.
“Let us be more inclusive,” Kinté urged her audience. “[These women] have much to teach us, […] we must listen to them.”
“We have so much work to do together, and we have never needed each other so much as in this very moment.”
Later in the rally, two masked representatives of the Montreal Collective of Women Without Status gave a bilingual address in Spanish and English.
“We, the undocumented women and mothers who live in the shadows, invisible, […] are coming forward to ask for support. […] The precarity in which we live because of our immigration status threatens our security, our freedom, our families, our children who are born here, live here, and who are terrorized by the threat of deportation,” they said.
“We are some of the most vulnerable and exploited people in society,” they continued. “We reject the [oppressive practices] of Canada’s immigration system, and demand to be accepted as human beings […] with equal dignity like everyone else.”
“Yes, we must struggle together, but first we must unite, and to unite we must recognize that not all women are oppressed in the same way. For some, Trump’s words have been shocking, but for others, these words have simply openly revealed the nastiness they experience on a daily basis.”
Meanwhile, in protest against Trump’s apparent history of harassment and assault of women, other speakers focused on the issue of gendered and sexual violence. Journalist Sue Montgomery, one of the creators of the hashtag #beenrapedneverreported, asked those who had experienced sexual assault – if they felt comfortable doing so – to raise their hands.
For a moment, those assembled looked around as hundreds of hands were raised. A few wiped away tears.
“It makes me so sad to see this,” said Montgomery. “One day, I would love to stand before you and ask the same question – raise your hands if you’ve been sexually assaulted. And I’d like to see not one hand raised.”
“We reject the [oppressive practices] of Canada’s immigration system, and demand to be accepted as human beings […] with equal dignity like everyone else.”
The rally at Place des Arts began and ended with words and music from Indigenous people, to honour the fact that the event – and the city of Montreal – was located on unceded Mohawk land, and in recognition of the disproportionate violence and discrimination faced by Canada’s Indigenous population.
The final speaker, a member of the collective Quebec Native Women, told the crowd that she had been sexually assaulted three times.
“I have a hard time finding the words,” she said, speaking in French, visibly emotional. “If I healed, […] I owe it to the women standing behind me, and in fact if I hadn’t had access to services culturally adapted for Indigenous people, I think I would not have survived. I’ve had enough. I’ve had enough of violence against Indigenous women. I’ve had enough of youth in our community throwing themselves off bridges – yes, children and teenagers kill themselves in our community every year.”
In a society that subjects women and Indigenous people to unspeakable discrimination and violence, she said, the women of her community had been instrumental in helping her and others like her to feel whole.
“One day, I would love to stand before you and ask the same question – raise your hands if you’ve been sexually assaulted. And I’d like to see not one hand raised.”
As the rally concluded with live music, and the crowd slowly dispersed, The Daily spoke with some of those who had attended. One couple, accompanied by their one-year-old son, explained why they came to the event.
“I think it’s important to teach him respect for rights and for equality [starting at] a very young age,” the child’s mother explained, “and I think we’re [witnessing] something that’s really not okay, and we should stand up against it. Particularly, I want to teach him to respect women. We already started teaching him about consent and stuff like that, and about the President of the United States being someone who doesn’t respect [women’s rights].”
“He doesn’t understand, but […] he’ll catch up someday,” added his father. “It’ll be deep-rooted within him.”
An earlier version of this article omitted to mention that the actual number of trans people murdered in 2016 was 237, not 98. The Daily regrets the error.