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Trans Day of Remembrance: Dal flies transgender flag


On Friday, Nov. 20, a blue, pink and white flag flew proudly on Dalhousie’s campus in honour of the Transgender Day of Remembrance (TDOR).

The day memorializes transgender, Two-Spirit, non-binary and gender-nonconforming people who have lost their lives to anti-transgender violence and discrimination.

At Dalhousie University, volunteers from DalOUT and South House Sexual and Gender Resource Centre spent the day tabling in multiple locations on campus in an attempt to educate students and raise awareness on the significance of the event.

“Often these people’s deaths go unrecognized and totally forgotten,” says Laura Chan, a non-binary Dalhousie alumnus who works within DalOUT aiming to bring visibility to the non-binary and transgender community.

“Part of this event is realizing those deaths for what they are. These people were killed as a direct result of transphobia.”

TDOR is observed in recognition of the brutal murder of Rita Hester, who was stabbed 20 times in her apartment on Nov. 28, 1998 and succumbed to cardiac arrest after her admittance to a hospital.

The police have still not found her murderer(s). One year after her death, writer and advocate Gwendolyn Ann Smith coordinated a vigil in commemoration of Rita and all those who were lost to anti-transgender violence. She also launched the TDOR website,, which provides information and memorializes the names of the lives lost to anti-transgender violence.

“A lot of people don’t realize how much violence transgender people face on a daily basis, whether that be in the form of verbal or physical violence. People don’t realize how normalized it is, how much it occurs, and how little we’re talking about it,” says Chan.

Injustice at Every Turn, a report of the National Transgender Discrimination Survey, brings to light injustices faced by the transgender and gender non-conforming community. The 2012 study involved 6,450 participants from 50 states of the USA, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, Guam and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

Findings report double the rates of unemployment and homelessness compared to the general population, while 90 per cent of those surveyed report harassment and discrimination on the job.

Forty-one per cent of respondents report attempting suicide compared to 1.6 per cent of the general population, while 19 per cent of the sample report being refused medical care due to their transgender or gender non-conforming status. These numbers are higher among people of colour in the survey.

“You often don’t really understand the gravity of it until you see everyone’s names in a row. It really hits you, and you start thinking about it and say, ‘Wow, that’s not normal!’ And yet it is the normal, and it is something that people don’t talk about, it’s something that people take for granted,” says Chan.

DalOUT and South House work every week to create conversation and safe spaces on campus for transgender and gender non-conforming people. TDOR memorializes the lost lives of transgender siblings, additionally fostering a community of support.

“That’s part of it: bringing everyone together not only to mourn but to remind ourselves and each other that we’re not alone — that we’re not the only ones, that we’re a community and not just a bunch of individuals struggling,” says Chan.

In the fall of 2013, then-Dalhousie student Jessica Dempsey filed a complaint with the Nova Scotia Human Rights Commission against Aramark, the company in charge of food services at Dalhousie, after she was allegedly harassed by two employees who misgendered her and asked whether her breasts were real.

Dempsey initially filed a complaint with the university’s Office of Human Rights, Equity and Harassment Prevention, where she was met with inaction. One year after filing her complaint with the Nova Scotia Human Rights Commission, she learned that her human rights case had been dismissed due to “insufficient evidence to support the allegation.”

Upon hearing that her case was dismissed, Dempsey voiced her disappointment in being let down by the institution that she believed was supposed to protect her.

“It’s hard to say if Dalhousie as an institution has taken many steps to actually protect transgender people from the violence that they face,” says Chan. “Right now, we’ve been talking to the DSU one-on-one trying to launch an initiative for transgender and queer healthcare through Dal health services.”

In 2014, the university implemented a preferred first name policy that makes it possible for students to change their first name on documents such as class lists and student ID cards.

Despite this progress, it remains a complicated process of accessibility waivers, which can be a source of distress and isolation.

“I know a lot of trans folks, myself included, don’t trust the security on campus — they misgender us, they don’t respect our identities. As trans people, it’s really uncomfortable going to them about anything. Ramping up security is all well and good for cis people, but when you’re talking about trans people who have already been disrespected by security services it doesn’t give you much faith in your physical safety,” says Chan.

Going forward, Chan offers insight into how Dalhousie students can support transgender people on campus, including using correct names and pronouns.

“If you hear transphobic language or if you hear someone making a transphobic joke, say, ‘Hey — that’s really messed up.’ It has to do with thinking critically. Hold yourself and others accountable for actions and how you approach transgender issues. A lot of people are very accustomed to saying ‘the opposite sex’ or ‘the opposite gender’ when in reality, there are no genders opposite to each other. It’s really just a large spectrum of gender with no real opposition at all.”

Trans and queer resources

Trans Women Support Group, a space for healing and support by and for trans women:

Queer Peers, a monthly informal peer support group for queer and trans folks to provide emotional support and share self-care skills:

QBITPOC Group, a support group for Queer Black, Indigenous and Trans People of Colour in Halifax:

Trans Day of Resilience Art Project:


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