By Jade Byard Peek, Deputy National Chairperson
Having gone through 23 trips around the sun, I’ve come to think of how many more years I will have, and if I will be the next person to emerge on the growing list of trans women being murdered in North America. Trans inclusion has become an increasingly sought out prioritization from student leaders, although the issue remains quite complicated.
Awareness of sexual violence, gender equity, missing and murdered Indigenous women, girls and two-spirited folks as well as reproductive justice, stigmatization and misrepresentation has grown through collective mobilization in recent years. At the federal level in Canada, the Royal Commission on the Status of Women became the Department of Women and Gender Equity on Dec. 13, 2018, with a current project of creating a framework to address sexual violence in post-secondary institutions. This is a shift in a positive direction. But, even with this good news, legislation and policy on these issues are still moving at a snail’s pace, and even backtracking in some regard.
A perfect example is when, in August 2016, the current Liberal government, through Health Canada, reduced the time restriction for sexually active gay men donating blood from five years to one. Canadian Blood Services followed suit by including trans women to this ban. These policies have been maintained despite blood shortages in 2017 and 2018.
While scientific, societal, and religious advancements continue to shift towards understanding and acceptance of transgender and non-binary folks, transphobia continues to be pushed by the far-right, white supremacists, mainstream conservatism, and the trans-exclusionary radical feminist movement (TERF). This is a dangerous escalation of fear-mongering, especially when it has seeped into grassroots gender equity movements.
The TERF movement is a sub-sect of the 1960-70s second wave feminist movement, that has integrated with the social media gender revolution in of the 2000s. Through tactics of online harassment and the spreading of fake news through closed groups, the actions of TERFs has promoted physical violence against gender-diverse folks.
For example, in May 2017, cartoonist Sophie Labelle experienced death threats and online harassment from TERFs for a launch taking place at Venus Envy, a popular sex shop and bookstore in Halifax. Andrea Stratis, a non-binary person, was assaulted in downtown Whitehorse, and transgender man Saye Skye was assaulted and received death threats in July 2018 in Toronto. Often, these movements insist that trans and non-binary folks are not actually in danger but are just preventing the progress of women. Not only is this ideology false, but it is also extremely harmful.
Most continuous data on violence against gender-diverse people is collected from the United States. However, by comparing the ratio of the population and reported violence, we know trans and non-binary folks experience violence at a higher rate than the average person in Canada. A study conducted by Statistics Canada in 2015 found that nearly one in four trans or non-binary youth, aged 19-25, reported being physically forced to have sex, more than 70 per cent reported sexual harassment, and 44 percent reported being cyberbullied.
Additionally, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights conducted a study showing that the average life expectancy of a trans-women in Latin America is between 30 and 35 years. In the United States, in 2018 alone, over 22 trans women were murdered with 85 per cent of them being people of colour and 64 per cent of them being under the age of 35.
These daunting facts and dedicated grassroots activism resulted in Bill C-16 receiving royal assent in 2017. The bill amended the Canadian Human Rights Act to include gender identity and expression on the list of prohibited grounds for discrimination. However, despite these changes, gender diverse folks still have limited access to health care, housing, employment, and are often victims of violence. It should be noted that reported acts of physical violence are often perpetuated by men and that this instigation of violence can somewhat be attributed to our own conflicts within the feminist movement around transgender and non-binary existence.
I experienced this when calling out the 2018 Halifax Women’s March organizers on their lack of action on transphobic violence in our communities, preferring instead to focus on the antics of Donald Trump. After the inaction of organizers following our online harassment by TERFs, we created our own march led by gender-diverse black and Indigenous people of colour called Walking The Talk to stress the need of an intersectional women’s movement.
As we try to push through the patriarchal institutions that dismiss our feminist and gender movements, we need to start investing in our sustainability. It’s important for impartial gender equity movements to wholeheartedly advocate and understand the violence, history and reality of gender diverse folks. Standing together against violence is essential for promoting feminism and achieving economic, political and social equality of gender diverse peoples.
On International Women’s Day, I reflect on the experiences of trans women and gender-diverse folks in Canada, the experiences we’ve had, the progress that has been made and the progress that still needs to be made.
My feminist agenda isn’t one that is based on gaining social currency or aligning with the trend of social justice. My agenda is pushing boundaries by sharing a culture of gender equity that is reinforced by the understanding of our collective traumas. A feminist is someone who believes that every human, regardless of gender, deserves dignity, access and rights, and who advocates for this belief whether in government, in institutions or even in the classroom. I hope we will recognize that trans-exclusionary radical feminism works hand-in-hand with the patriarchy and can only be torn down by intersectional feminism. Perhaps, when that is realized, I won’t become another statistic.