In response to the murder of a transgender New Westminster woman, a new transgender coalition is saying "enough is enough".
Metro Vancouver's transgender communities and allies are seeking justice for 26-year-old January Marie Lapuz, who was fatally stabbed in her New Westminster home on September 29. Police announced that 20-year-old Charles Jameson "Jamie" Neel (who was arrested on December 5) will be facing second-degree murder charges.
The Transtastic Coalition for Equality, which formed in November, has sprung into action to organize its first major event: the Justice for January Rally on Saturday (January 5, 4 to 6 p.m.). Attendees, which will include speakers (who are yet to be confirmed) and the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence (who will provide emotional support for those mourning the death of Lapuz), will march from New Westminster City Hall to the New Westminster Courthouse.
While the rally, being held two days before Neel's bail hearing on Monday (January 7), will express concern about Neel's possible release, one of the event's organizers, Leada Stray, wanted to emphasize that the event is not intended to pass judgment on Neel.
“All we know is that he has been charged and we would categorically oppose bail for anyone charged of murder, period, especially anyone involved in the murder of a transgender individual," Stray said by phone. "We are not asking anyone to pass judgment. We’re actually requesting that they don’t. Let him have his fair trial afforded to him by Canadian law and while he’s having that fair trial, maybe everybody can think about the people who don’t get the rights that everybody else gets, mainly trans people.”
The rally will also address a number of transgender issues that remain inadequately addressed, unresolved, or ignored.
"Unfortunately, it took the murder of a very beautiful woman to bring the community together to call for this," Stray said. The activist pointed out that both the police news release and media reports about Lapuz erroneously identified her by her former name and with the wrong pronouns. "The community is tired of having lack of access to care, having police disrespect us, having governments filibuster instead of having open and honest conversations with us. It’s just reached a breaking point where the community is now standing up and saying we want equal rights, we want access to medical care, we want…[access] to the [gender-appropriate] bathroom…"
As several transgender advocates have pointed out in the past, Stray explained that a lack of funding is undermining Vancouver Coastal Health's Transgender Health Program.
“Some of the concerns of the trans health program…is catchment areas. It’s very difficult for people living in other areas to access the clinic and access the catchment areas....A large part isn’t anything to do with the people who are running trans health programs—it’s to do with the budget. They don’t have enough money to provide proper, adequate care to all of B.C.’s transgender persons as is their mandate….”
The rally will also draw attention to the need for provincial and federal human rights codes to protection for people of differing gender identities and gender expression, which Stray calls “something that should be a basic human right". Ontario, Manitoba, Nova Scotia, and the Northwest Territories have all incorporated gender identity into their human rights legislation; British Columbia has not.
“My main concern at this point isn’t for my rights," Stray said. "I’ve lived in a world that doesn’t give me rights. I’m used to that. But I want to see that changed for the next generation. For me...it’s about the young activists that come to me and go, ‘Why hasn’t this changed?’ ”
Stray pointed out that education about transgender issues is key.
“I feel that changing things like the codes and providing assistance for the trans health program so that it can truly fulfill its mandate will create a culture of education....We really need to start educating people and showing people that as transgender people...we’re just people....Part of the biggest start for that is getting the bills changed so that we have some safety, getting some education out there for our police forces....It starts with a push for equality that leads to a drive for education, which hopefully leads to a better world.”
An outpouring of supportive email and Facebook messages in response to the rally has provided Stray with something else: hope.
“It’s absolutely heartwarming....the messages of support that we’re getting from as far away as Maryland are absolutely stunning. People have really turned around and shown their heart, and that’s something that I think, if we achieve nothing else, we have achieved a solidarity within the community that I think sometimes is missing.”