NOVEMBER 13 to 19 is Transgender Awareness Week, a week that raises visibility of transgender people and issues they face. It is followed by Nov. 20, Transgender Day of Remembrance, to recognize trans people whose lives have been lost.
Here in Kamloops, there are a number of events planned including a Transgender Day of Remembrance event organized by Kamloops Pride, as well as some online resources posted by the Kamloops United Church.
Some may think there are no transgender people in Kamloops. But according to Statistics Canada, in Canada, 0.24 per cent of people are transgender men or women, or non-binary.
If Kamloops has a similar number, then well over 200 of our residents are transgender. Even if it was half that, over 100 of our community are part of this group.
I can’t say I know 200 or even 100 transgender people in Kamloops, but I have had friends who are trans, know acquaintances with trans children, had colleagues who were trans, and met trans people at community events. I know that transgender people are a small but important part of the fabric of our community.
Part of visibility is recognizing transgender people as an important and valued part of the Kamloops community. But visibility also ensures they can live safely here and elsewhere as well.
Studies by Statistics Canada found transgender people are more likely to experience violence, and more likely to experience inappropriate behavior in public, online and at work. They found transgender people experience 59 per cent more assaults, either physical or sexual, than others. That is to say, to be transgender is to be less safe in our community.
Part of visibility is seeing others as being members of our community, deserving recognition and inclusion. Visibility includes seeing others as deserving lives free of violence.
There are still those who oppose the idea of transgender people, but the reality is that people make the choice to be who they are, and luckily, the laws in Canada protect their right to do so.
For myself, while I’ve known a number of transgender people, there is one person in particular who taught me the importance of people having the choice to identify their own gender.
More than 30 years ago, I had a boyfriend. He was adventuresome, bright, generous, and brave. We went backcountry skiing and kayaking. He worked for the largest software company in the world.
I once gave him a pie to take home, but along the way, he gave it to some young people living on the streets. He once showed up at my house with a beaten face. He had rescued a gay man who was being beaten by thugs.
But he also had fits of depression, and he turned to drugs. In the end, our relationship ended, but we kept our friendship.
More than 15 years later I understood more about his mental struggles, when he transitioned to become a woman. It was a hard decision to make, but the transformation had a huge impact. Now a woman, she has a much healthier mental state, and has turned away from drugs. Making the decision to be true to herself had a very positive outcome.
As much as there were some large changes, the things that are core about my friend, of being adventuresome, bright, generous, and brave haven’t changed. She continues to hike and kayak. She works as a team lead for a software development company. She cares for her elderly mother. She volunteers at the Downtown Eastside of Vancouver. The friends she had from 30 years ago in general are still there today. She is living a life true to herself.
There is still discrimination against transgender people. They continue to experience violence at far higher rates than others. But there is much to be thankful for, that people like my friend have a chance to be who they are. Both the positives and negatives are what this week is about.
Nancy Bepple is a former City councillor of Kamloops with a strong interest in community building projects.