On June 28th, 1969 Police raided the Stonewall Inn in New York City’s Greenwich Village. The Office of Public Morals was a unit in the NYC Police responsible for policing ambiguous moral crimes and being Transgender was illegal. Police rounded up Trans women, frisked them, and asked for their ID’s. Any woman whose identification said male would be arrested, and when they inevitably refused to produce identification, a riot broke out. That night at Stonewall was the start of the modern Pride movement.
It has now been 48 years since that time, and even though great strides have been made in the LGB movement, Transgender people are still fighting for fundamental equality and recognition. Identification, for example, is still difficult to come by in Canada for Transgender people. So too is access to healthcare, housing, and employment. The suicide rate among Transgender people is nine times the national average, and that is particularly due to systemic discrimination and violence that continues to happen toward Transgender people on a daily basis.
On July 5th, the Transgender flag was raised at Brampton City Hall for the first time as a part of Peel Pride. The flag, first designed by Trans woman Monica Helms in 1999, represents the transgender community and consists of five horizontal stripes: two light blue, two pink, and one white in the centre. Flying the flag is of particular importance this year as the Transgender community received long-awaited civil rights through Bill C-16. C-16 adds Gender Identity and Gender Expression to the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and adds special sentencing guidelines for crimes directed to Transgender people in the Canadian Criminal Code.
Christine Newman, long time Transgender activist said that “seeing the transgender flag flying for the first time in multiple locations across the country this year, immediately following the passage of C-16 into law, is a sign to transgender people, young and old, that you exist, we see you, we honour your rights and who you are as part of the world.”
Transgender women of colour were arrested at Stonewall that night in 1969, but a larger LGB agenda has often overshadowed the Transgender community. Murder of Transgender people still happen all over the world, and in the United States reached all-time highs in 2016. According to the Transgender Discrimination Survey, Transgender people are four times more likely to have incomes under $10,000 per year and twice as likely to be unemployed.
But surveys can’t tell the whole story as most infrastructure is not able to accurately account for Transgender people. For example, in the last census, identifying as Transgender was not an option. Therefore, it’s hard to determine how many Transgender people there are in Canada. The numbers have been estimated as small as .3% and as large as 2% of the total population and could be even higher as more people identify as Transgender.
Bringing awareness to Transgender issues in our communities, therefore, is important. It is not that Transgender people are coming to the forefront now, they have always existed as your co-workers and even in your neighbourhoods. It is just now that Transgender people are feeling safer to be more visible, and due to that visibility means that we must bring Transgender issues to the forefront of the LGBT movement.
Raising the flag makes people ask questions and perhaps get an opportunity to meet a Transgender person. It brings awareness to Transgender issues to city officials, and most of all demonstrates that the community cares about a very vulnerable section of our community.
Newman says that “it occurs to me that we are really beginning to see progress happening from coast to coast to coast in Canada. To see the trans flag raised on its own, or along with the rainbow flag, is a moment in time to long be remembered by those of us who have fought for years to get basic rights and recognition. It also makes me excessively proud of my country, to see the strides we have made to continue to protect and preserve and enshrine in the law books, basic human rights for our transgender communities. Every aspect of society is moving at an improved pace, to make sure that all people are equal.”
As we move forward, we must continue to welcome and work with the Transgender and gender non-conforming communities to ensure that people are no longer marginalized in Peel. That will require a great deal of challenging work, which is more than symbolism. It will require a commitment by our city officials and businesses to work with individuals to make a Peel the example of a more fair and equitable community.
Newman for one welcomes the changes and says, “I congratulate the people of Brampton for being open-minded and welcoming their transgender citizens into the national family.”
Rachel Lauren Clark is an award-winning Transgender Activist who is currently the President of the Queer Liberals, Secretary General of the University Rosedale Federal Liberal Association and belongs as a member or director to several LGBT organizations. Rachel has previously worked as the Secretary of the Board of Directors for Pride Toronto, Chair of the Amnesty International LGBTI Action Circle, Education and Training Facilitator for the 519 Community Centre, among several other positions, and attends the University of Toronto where she is studying for her Master’s Degree in Theology. Rachel is employed by TD Bank Group, where she is a technology strategist, and sits on several LGBT advisory panels. Rachel has appeared on several media outlets including CBC Radio One Metro Morning and The Current, in the Vice documentary “On Hold”, has been profiled on CP24, Global, and CTV, and was featured in Toronto Life Magazine. Rachel currently resides in Bolton with her partner Carol-Ann.