Transgender Day of Rememberance, Racism, And Infighting Within The LGBTQ+ Community
Tuesday, November 20th, 2018 was this year’s International Transgender Day of Rememberance (also known by the shortform “TDOR”).
The occasion was born in 1999 by trans woman Gwendolyn Ann Smith to memorialize the trans people who have been murdered due to Transphobia (or the better term: transmisia). To date, trans women of colour are at highest risk of being murdered due to the collective combination of transmisia, transmisogyny, and of course racism.
Despite Trans people having more visibility than ever before worldwide and arguably also having more acceptance than ever before, Trans people still face some of the most severe and widespread discrimination in society at large.
Last year was my first TDOR as an “out” trans person, and even then I was aware that there was a lot of infighting within the LGBTQ+ community. While this article does focus mainly on TDOR and the trans community, there has long been rifts between many of the different letters of the LGBTQ+ acronym.
Gay men don’t like Lesbians, Lesbians don’t like Gay men, they both don’t like Bisexuals, Queer is also its own thing that draws much ire. Everyone hates trans people and no one even wants to admit Non-Binary (or Asexual) people are real (or valid). Everyone has either own march at pride (though the main parade does typically include everyone)
You would think that considering how we all face similar challenges and discrimination, we’d want to help each other out, but for some reason, each letter within the acronym seems to want to just stick to their group, get their rights, and too bad so sad for the others. (And once more, when you throw racism into the mix, that’s a whole extra can of worms).
Anyway, last year was my first TDOR and it was nice. I went to the ceremonies at The 519, a local LGBTQ+ Community Centre and Social Hub here in Toronto’s “Gay Village”. I actually made two new friends that night, one a fellow trans woman, the other an Asexual woman.
This year’s TDOR was a little different.
I will admit, I have become one of those trans people who has been so incredibly fortunate to be able to be out at work and thus living my true life 100% of the time, and I’ve got lots of great supportive and awesome friends so I don’t personally feel as much need for community specific events these days. I still like meeting other local trans people, but it feels less like “I absolutely must go” to certain events.
This year, TDOR was quite chilly, with a decent breeze. It was officially 7 degrees Celsius, but with windchill it had to be hovering right around actual freezing (0C / 32F). I ended up being one layer shy of what would have been comfortable for such conditions.
The mid-afternoon flag raising took place out front of Queen’s Park (which is a legislature building) from 2–3:30pm, and the other at City Hall (further downtown) after that. It was organized and facilitated by an organization called Toronto Trans Alliance. As I later learned, a group named QT CASE (“Queer Trans Community Action Support and Education”) was there to protest the event, whom had one member present, if not multiple.
A friend of mine had mentioned they were planning to attend the flag raising, and I met them there, but was a little late.
I arrived around 2:30pm. When I arrived, speeches were still being given by various people. My friend informed me that all 4 of the main political parties had representatives present to give speeches, including someone from the Conservative Party (which recently voted to not recognize gender identity as a real thing, calling it “Liberal Ideology”, which Premier Doug Ford came out a couple of days later and said he would not move further on the issue).
There were 3 more speeches from when I arrived, to the flag being raised to half mast.
The flag was raised to half mast, and then the emcee, a trans man named Boyd Kodak (one of the leadership of Toronto Trans Alliance) said they were going to have a moment of silence to honour the dead.
As soon as the moment of silence began, a trans woman of colour (Abuzar Chaudhary, part of QT CASE) stepped forward from the sidelines and began loudly denouncing the event, and made the specific claim that the Moment of Silence is a colonialism-rooted practice and that it does not support fallen people of colour. She went on through the entire moment of silence, making additional claims that Toronto Trans Alliance was a discriminatory organization.
Once Mr. Kodak decided to end the moment of silence, he stepped back up to the podium and began denying her claims, saying Chaudhary had “always been welcomed with love”, which she denied. She stepped closer to the podium, and the microphone began to pick her voice up more.
Kodak was visibly agitated and asked her to stop, but she refused to be silenced. She continued to voice criticisms and accusations of Toronto Trans Alliance.
Finally, Kodak gave up, and he asked the police in attendance to deal with the situation. Several police officers slowly surrounded Chaudhary, and asked her to step aside, to go outside of the gathering of people. She refused. She was just standing there, making completely valid use of her free speech rights at a public event on public property.
The police closed in on her (I recall at one point one of them must have grabbed her arm and she yelled “Don’t touch me!”).
It was around this time that I heard a voice from behind me make several disparaging remarks about Chaudhary. The phrase “dirty faggot” was said. This is what made me turn around to see who said it. The person behind me appeared in my best estimation to be a fellow trans woman. I said to her “really? you’re going to say that to a fellow trans person, at this event, on this day?”. The person did not respond to me.
I turned back around, and Chaudhary was gone. She had been taken away by police. I obtained this photo from QT CASE’s instagram:
There was mixed shouting, several people in the crowd were complaining about the involvement of the police, and decrying the use of force to detain peaceful protesters. The common refrain of “Shame!” was chanted a few times.
Now I noticed that someone was laying on the ground. Initially it appeared that they had been dragged down by the police, but it quickly became evident that they were unconscious. As I moved to my left to get a better view, I saw that the police were applying handcuffs. People in the crowd cried out in disgust and anger and concern for the person. Someone (or multiple people) yelled for someone to call an ambulance. The police seemed largely unconcerned with the health and wellbeing of the protester.
They lifted the unconscious person (who I was later told was a friend of Chaudhary’s who had tried to protect her when the police stepped in) up and began dragging their still-unconscious body away.
This video has been obtained of the situation:
After this person had been taken into the building, the event was essentially over. Boyd Kodak returned to the podium and told the crowd that hot drinks were available at a table to the side, and that there was another ceremony following afterwards at City Hall.
I was approached by a member of the media to ask what had happened, but since I hadn’t seen everything, and didn’t yet know about QT CASE and their organized protest of the event, I declined to comment on record because it would have been largely speculation.
I was not able to attend the second ceremony, and so I departed while shivering badly. As I was nearing the subway entrance, an ambulance whizzed by, sirens blaring.
Through the grapevine I heard later that Chaudhary was quickly released by police, but the unconscious protester (whose identity I still have not learned as of this writing) was held for several hours and released later that night, having received no medical attention as yet).
When I got home, I quickly took to facebook to alert my friends to what had happened. I was most appalled by Mr. Kodak directing police to “deal with” a peaceful protester, leading to unnecessary (and violent) arrests and injuries.
Toronto Trans Alliance has a group on Facebook, and a post was created that night which directly called out Mr. Kodak, and several commenters asked him to answer for what had happened. He not only did not respond, but the thread was completely deleted late that night (on the 20th).
The following morning (Nov 21st), I checked facebook and saw a new post calling out the deletion of the original, and several more comments that tagged Boyd Kodak directly and asked for answers. As of around mid day on the 21st that second post and thread had also been deleted, and a few people in the group had either been kicked out, blocked by Kodak, or both.
He also changed the group settings to require all further posts to the group require moderator approval. As of today, Nov 22nd, the 3rd thread that had been created is also gone, and there is currently no discussion among any of the posts in the group about the incident. He is one of only two admins of the group (at the time of this writing) so his hands are pretty red.
A new separate group has been created to discuss the incident.
On Nov 21st, 2018, QT CASE released an official statement about the incident.
I had asked around my local trans friend circle about all involved, Kodak, Toronto Trans Alliance (TTA), and Chaudhary.
The people who responded said (to paraphrase) “this is very normal behaviour for Toronto Trans Alliance”.
One person made the claim that TTA’s primary function is to lend legitimacy to the city and Toronto Police by “playing nice” for photo-op type events showing that they are inclusive and tolerant, which lends additional protection to the leadership of TTA, and that they have a history of discriminating against trans people of colour, and a history of gatekeeping. A few others echoed these sentiments, though at this time I don’t have any concrete evidence to support the accusations aside from the censorship of deleting posts critical of them.
Chaudhary has created a website for QTCASE, with an article titled “What Is The Toronto Trans Alliance And How It Is Violent” which seems to be the basis for her protest of the event.
At this point, given what went down over the last two days, the TTA has shown with it’s actions and silence that it does not appear to represent all trans people equally, nor is it truly an “alliance”.
As for Chaudhary, I received negative and/or critical feedback about her from multiple people. She has a reputation for very radical politics. One person commented that Chaudhary is “fucking infamous”. Another person commented that she is “a very good disruptor, but not always for the best”.
Regardless, she was well within her rights to peacefully protest, and it was absolutely not appropriate for her to have been forcefully arrested, and certainly not for her friend to have been knocked unconscious and unceremoniously dragged off and not receive any medical attention.
To backtrack for a moment, Chaudhary had stated that the moment of silence as an act has colonial roots. That point stuck out to many of the people I’ve told about this incident. I’ve looked into it to try and better educate myself so I can help educate others.
The practice seems to have originated with a group known as The Quakers, a historically Christian group that originated in England and were part of colonial efforts over the last 300+years. So that claim by Chaudhary does seem to hold up.
It reminds me indirectly of the saga with former NFL player Colin Kaepernick (who is a person of colour), who in 2016 began silently protesting during the national anthem at NFL games in the name of racial inequality in America. Kaepernick “took a knee”, which many white people took issue with. It turns out that Kaepernick consulted military veteran Nate Boyer who recommend he “take a knee” instead of sitting during the national anthem, as it is a common practice in the military to do so to honor fallen comrades. Since football has strong ties to the American Military, this was a very powerful and also peaceful gesture. However, Kaepernick has since been shunned out of the NFL, so he effectively sacrificed his career to make a point, but a point that was important and worthwhile.
I am still digging to try and find some more concrete proof of the accusations and criticisms leveled at both Toronto Trans Alliance and Chaudhary, and will update this article as I’m able.