End Violence Against Trans Women

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By Jian Qing (Kit) Wilson-Yang

Jia Qing (Kit) Wilson-Yang is a mixed race trans woman living in Toronto. She current works coordinating a research project on trans women and HIV and has worked on a project focused on trans women and sexual violence, art projects with trans youth, and as a youth outreach worker in north Toronto.

She spoke at Ontario’s Summit on Sexual Violence and Harassment as a part of the panel on seeding generational change and empowering youth voices.

Good morning. Thank you for having me here today. I’m here, because of the incredible efforts of so many trans women who have worked for our rights, inclusion, and existence to be recognized. To me, many of these women are elders, and many of them are the youth and peers I am privileged to work with.

Work that has been done and work that is being done, by trans women young and old, makes my being here possible.

I want to bring a few names into the room today with me. Kimberly Nixon. While she may not have won ultimately in the courtrooms of British Columbia, her fight is an example to us of how real and current the exclusion of trans women is in women’s spaces. Marsha P Johnston. Silvia Rivera. Two sex working trans women of colour who brought us the first ‘gay pride’ among many other things, though a walk through any ‘gay village’ may not tell you that.

Sex workers have had the backs of trans women for decades longer than most of our allies today. It is vital that the work of sex workers be recognized as work, and that their contributions and work with tens of thousands of men in this country be understood, as Vivian Namaste says ‘for the political contribution that it is’. To all of the people I have worked with and been inspired by, thank you.

Thank you elders, thank you youth and thank you allies old and new.

Violence is an exclusionary act. The act of murdering, attacking and assaulting all send a clear message, we don’t want you to feel like you have power here.

Tomorrow is trans remembrance day. A complicated day. People will be gathering all over the world to remember trans people who have been killed in the last year. Killed in brutal ways.

Tomorrow, the 21 murders of trans women of colour in Canada and the US, almost all of whom were black, will be remembered. Those are reported murders. For this year, 2015, was a deadly year for black trans women and trans women of colour. Many of these deaths may have happened in the united states, but I can assure you, that I know, through my work, my life and my communities, that trans women are assaulted physically and sexually with regularity in Canada, and that Toronto is no exception. This is something that can be helped.

For those of you who work in helping professions, those of you who work in rape crisis centres, who work to stop violence against women, you are in a position to help. You can help by doing more than opening our doors to trans women. Make sure trans women know they welcome. Put it on your websites, put it in your flyers. Then back up those statements of inclusion.

Policy and rhetoric will only help us so much. But jobs will help us more. Opportunities to work with our communities to heal will help us. Training your staff to work with trans women, combating transphobia in your organization -before someone complains- that will help us. If your organization is not taking these steps, there is a huge group of women who need access to spaces where they can heal and be supported, that you are not supporting.

Many of us have been traumatized by the institutions that purport to help us. A half hearted effort of inclusion is going to be retraumatizing. Help us to have power. Here.

In 2013, I was privileged with the opportunity to travel in Ontario and meet trans women in different cities to talk about sexual violence. Out of those discussions it became clear that many of trans women are afraid of trying to access services ‘for women’ because of worries that they will be turned away, or that the service may let them in the door, but there won’t be anything for them when they get there.

Support is more than just letting trans women in, if trans women are not represented in the staff, if they access a shelter and are put in a separate room from everyone else, it’s not a service that is trans positive. Trans positive services involve trans women at every level of service.

Another major theme that came out of the discussions was that many of us do not feel safe going to the police. Maybe an aspect of our lives is criminalized, perhaps it’s sex worker, HIV status, or substance use. Maybe it’s a history of being sexually assaulted or beaten by the police. Maybe there is the feeling that nothing will come from involving the police. We’ll get blamed for the violence we are burdened with because of the work we do, the contents of our blood, or the ways we have learned to cope with system after system that excludes us.

Laws like Bill C-36, which criminalizes sex work, or criminal charges associated with HIV non disclosure, don’t keep us safe. They don’t protect us. They criminalize and marginalize trans women, especially any of us living lives where we have to manage and negotiate any intersecting oppressions.

I want to leave you with a positive story about how much better things are getting. But 21 trans women of colour murdered in one year in the us and canada is tremendous. I want to leave you with a story about how much more accepted we have become. It is without a doubt, in Ontario, easier for trans women than it was a few decades ago. To the south, Trans women of colour like Lavern Cox and Janet Mock are dazzling the world with their brilliance. But the most positive thing I can leave you with today is the message that you have the power to help this. You have the ability to make this better in your communities. Your organizations. Hire us. Work with us to provide services. Involve us. Help us have access to spaces to heal.

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