“We read one by one the names of those deceased victims,” said Lana Leitova, one of nine people who waved flags and commemorated the lives of people who were killed violently because they were transgender.
“It was difficult to listen to the degree of violence in many of the cases,” she said. “It was very moving.”
There were 309 names on this list, many from Brazil, Mexico and Venezuela.
This was the second annual Transgender Day of Remembrance in Port Alberni. The international event began in 1999 by a transgender advocate to remember Rita Hester, a transgender woman from Boston who was killed in 1998. The first event commemorated all transgender people who had died in the year since Hester’s death. The day became a worldwide event for the transgender community to highlight the people who have died due to intolerance.
Many of the transgender people who are commemorated on this day died violently, Port Alberni organizer Jozie Palecek said.
“We’re commemorating transgender people who lost their life due to violence. We’re very lucky that in Canada nobody was murdered in such a way this year,” she said.
“It was very shocking the way some of them died,” added Kathee Muzin, who is Leitova’s wife.
The average number of deaths for Canadian transgender people is one per year, Mark Dawson said.
Paul Thompson, the newly elected chair of AV Pride Society, said it was emotional reading out the names of transgender people who were killed in the last year. “We have a decent trans community in Port Alberni,” he said. “It’s something that should be recognized. It’s growing on a very regular basis.”
Leitova said the small group in front of city hall received support from drivers who honked as they drove by, which she found heartening. “It can be scary to be transgender in this town sometimes,” she said.
Francis Palazzolo said the supportive trans and LGBTQ community in Port Alberni have given him the courage to speak publicly. He came out five months ago, just after attending the Victoria Pride parade. “I felt a great sense of pride and acceptance,” he said.
He and his wife talked about whether they should move to Victoria, but Palazzolo said support he has received from people in Port Alberni means he feels comfortable being himself here. “I feel happier in my own self, being able to express myself—who I truly am.”
Alberni Valley Pride Society members meet for coffee every Friday at 5:30 p.m. at Burde Beans on Burde Street at 12th Avenue. Allies are welcome too.