UBC organizers of Transgender Day of Remembrance event respond to activist’s criticism
The cochair of Pride UBC is disappointed that one of the three groups planning a campus event on Tuesday (November 20) to mark the Transgender Day of Remembrance has pulled out.
But Bobby-Joe Greenberg is “happy” that Tami Starlight, executive director of the Vancouver Transgender Day of Remembrance Society, is organizing a separate event in the Downtown Eastside, since UBC isn’t a location that’s accessible for many people.
“We never had the intent for the Pride UBC event to be the only event happening in the city,” Greenberg told the Georgia Straight by phone today (November 19).
According to the economics and women’s studies student, who identifies as a genderqueer trans person (and uses the pronouns they, them, and their), Pride UBC has hosted special events on or close to the Day of Remembrance—observed annually on November 20 to memorialize people killed in transphobic violence—for several years.
Greenberg noted that Starlight usually holds the “community event” on the weekend, so UBC organizers were surprised when the trans rights activist signed on to the campus event this year.
On Friday (November 16), Starlight told the Straight that her group had severed ties with the UBC event due to “organizational and political differences”. She claimed that the campus event wasn’t being organized “collaboratively and respectfully” and was in danger of becoming a “pulpit” for professors or aspiring politicians.
Starlight has scheduled a candlelight vigil for Tuesday at the Carnegie Community Centre to mark the Day of Remembrance. The event on the third floor will begin at 7 p.m.
Greenberg said they’re sad that the timing of the Downtown Eastside vigil overlaps with the campus event, which will start at 5:30 p.m. The UBC event was planned under the assumption that a community event would happen on the weekend, according to the student.
“I guess, when trying to organize with us, Tami didn’t realize the commitments that we have when it comes to Trans Day of Remembrance,” Greenberg said. “We think it’s really important to acknowledge those that have been murdered, but we also like to acknowledge the fact that transphobia and trans repudiation is something that the whole community feels and is a constant form of discrimination that we feel. So we like to focus on those that have been murdered and those that are currently feeling discrimination, along with what is also being done in the community—the positive things that are being done.”
At the art gallery in the Student Union Building, the UBC event will feature speakers, an open mic, the showing of a clip from a documentary, a “statement on who we are remembering”, and the lighting of candles, followed by a debriefing in the Trans Tea Time discussion group. Greenberg noted that all of the scheduled speakers are trans or gender nonconforming individuals, who will address issues in the trans community and the systemic oppression and persecution of trans people.
According to Greenberg, organizers of the campus event don’t feel they “have the right” to take on the “power of naming” transgender murder victims and their experiences. Instead, they will read out a statement addressing the fact that trans women of colour bear the brunt of transphobic violence and recognizing that trans people are murdered, bashed, bullied, and denied medical care, and take their own lives.
Greenberg hopes upwards of 40 people will attend. The student stressed Pride UBC works to ensure all its events are a “safe place” and welcoming to people of all identities, whether out or not.
“I think it will be emotional, in that it will remind us of what does happen to our community,” Greenberg said. “But hopefully there will also be some uplifting aspects of it—a reminder that things are changing and things are happening in our community, and we can look to each other for support.”
This year, the Sexual Assault Support Centre—which, like Pride UBC, is a branch of the Alma Mater Society—is helping to organize the Day of Remembrance event on campus for the first time.
Anisa Mottahed, manager of the centre, told the Straight that Starlight was invited to speak during the event’s open mic. She asserted that Starlight’s comments criticizing the inclusion of speakers in the event were “invalid”.
“It’s about building community and raising awareness, so it’s not really a place or a pulpit for professors or aspiring politicians,” Mottahed said. “I’m not sure where that understanding had come from.”
Mottahed was also upset that the Straight didn’t contact the centre for comment before running its story on Friday. The Straight had left interview requests on Friday for Pride UBC by email and voicemail.
Still, Mottahed said she’s “really glad” Starlight is putting on an event at the Carnegie Community Centre.
“Our hope is to be able to continue to work collaboratively with her, in a really respectful way,” Mottahed said.