Even though Pride Week in Ottawa is a festive celebration, it’s also a time for more serious causes.
That’s why more than 100 people gathered Friday night at McNabb Park for a march dedicated to the transgender, two-spirited, and gender non-conforming communities.
It was the second such march during this year’s Capital Pride, which wraps up this weekend.
The atmosphere was warm as families with young children and elders mingled with crowds of protesters waving flags and placards.
Though Pride Week recognizes all members of the LGBT community, members of the trans community said they felt they needed a dedicated space of their own to express and assert themselves.
“This is one of the only spaces during Pride that is only for [trans people] and allows us to be ourselves. It’s not corporate, it’s not a party,” Cayce Ainsworth told Radio-Canada at the march.
“For the trans community, which has been very marginalized … these kinds of events are crucial,” Ainsworth said.
Ainsworth, who does not identify as a man or woman, helped organize the event for Pride Week. Ainsworth said that even within the LGBT community, transgender people often face discrimination.
‘There are a lot of needs in our community right now’
That marginalization is particularly felt among transgender people from cultural and Indigenous minorities — a phenomenon known as intersectionality.
“It is important in a week like this that we recognize the struggles and organize events in this way. There are a lot of needs in our community right now, and even if we have fun during Pride, it is above all a way of attacking and denouncing the structures of oppression,” said Keya Prempeh, a black transgender activist.
The same is true for two-spirited, Indigenous people such as Alex Ray Wolf, who do not identify with traditional genders.
“We get a lot of judgment [because we are Indigenous],” Ray Wolf said.
“We want to remind [the colonizers] that we are two-spirited and that we have the right to be both male and female,” said Ray Wolf, whose parents are Mohawk and Algonquin.
A long road ahead
Even if the demonstrators only marched a few kilometres Friday night, they said there’s still a long way to go for equality of trans people.
Access to housing, education, adequate health care and employment remains challenging, according to those who attended the march.
It’s what Keya Pempreh describes as a vicious circle, as limited access to work or housing often leads to health problems, social insecurity, and drug or alcohol abuse.
Susan Bapka, an activist from Toronto, told Radio-Canada that she’d been caught in that circle for a long time.
“I left the closet around the age of 40. My life was not easy. I had drug and alcohol problems and I lived on the streets in Toronto for 10 years. But when I started to get support, I could accept that I wanted to live like a woman,” she said.
For Gapka and many other activists who gathered on Friday, the solution to these problems is above all the protection of human rights with initiatives like Bill C-16, which was adopted in June.
While they welcome this initiative, some of the marchers also acknowledged that much remains to be done to advance their rights.