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Toronto’s Trans Community Grieves Loss of Kyle Scanlon

Community leader paved way for trans acceptance and understanding.

Photo courtesy of Alaina Hardie.

Toronto’s queer and trans communities lost a valued leader, gifted mentor, and much-loved friend this past week when Kyle Scanlon, the education, training, and research coordinator at the 519 Community Centre, took his own life on July 3 at his home in downtown Toronto.

An activist, researcher, and front-line worker, Scanlon worked with agencies like the 519 and Sherbourne Health Centre to develop programs to address the needs of Toronto’s trans community, and gave generously of his time, energy, and expertise in assisting trans people with issues of employment, housing, sexual health, and acceptance within the larger community.

“Kyle knew what needed to be done when it came to social justice, and he did it,” said longtime friend Alaina Hardie. “He didn’t seek accolades, and was happy to be either right on the front line or helping quietly in the background, with really no thought given to being recognized. He was selfless to an extent you rarely see. He just wanted to get the work done.”

A tribute from Toronto’s Trans PULSE project noted: “For the past 10 years, Kyle worked at The 519 Church Street Community Centre, first as the Trans Programs Coordinator and then as the Education, Training, and Research Coordinator. In these roles, Kyle trained thousands of service providers around the province to make their services accessible to trans people…He served on countless boards and committees, and despite his many responsibilities, he responded with an open heart to the needs of members of the trans community on a daily basis.”

As news spread of Scanlon’s death over the weekend, an image soon emerged of a kind and caring man with an open heart and winning smile, who tirelessly came to the aid of others—but who privately fought against chronic depression that first manifested in his youth. His friends and peers are now grappling with the question of how he could help so many others through the most challenging moments in their lives but not seek the same help himself in his moment of need. 

“I often had to tell Kyle how proud I was of him and what he’d accomplished,” said close friend Janet Knights, who has faced down depression in her own life. “He couldn’t seem to take in the value of his work or the role he played in other’s lives. For a lot of years he struggled to find a place to belong. He had trouble with university life and took on some unsatisfying jobs before finding his space at the 519. He had many friends and acquaintances and did find peace with his family. But it wasn’t enough. It could never be enough.” 

An October 2010 U.S. study by the National Centre for Transgender Equality and the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, surveying more than 6,000 people who identified as transgender and gender non-conforming, found that a staggering 41 per cent reported attempting suicide, compared to 1.6 per cent of the general population. Because of intense and pervasive societal pressures like stigma, prejudice, and discrimination, people from marginalized communities run a higher risk of experiencing depression at some point in their lives. Financial constraints, racial and cultural factors, limited access to resources, and a lack of nuanced understanding from helping professionals exacerbate the challenges that those in marginalized communities with mental-health issues may face.

“Kyle struggled for a long time with mental-health issues,” observed Hardie. “I think it’s important to mention that they did not come from him being trans or queer. Mental health issues cross all demographic boundaries. We all need to work together to destigmatize mental illness so people in Kyle’s situation know they can ask for help and receive respectful treatment.”

Writer and activist S. Bear Bergman thinks that Scanlon may have faced a special challenge in seeking help, arising from his role within the queer and trans community. “I worry that Kyle, a guy who was such a helper-of-all, may ultimately have found himself, in a brutal moment, feeling like there was no one he could turn to because in all his relationships, the current of help moved from him to others.” He added: “Queer and trans people often end up working directly with our communities and, even in a big city, LGBT2Qville can be a pretty small town. When you add in over a dozen years of community work and experience, as Kyle gave, who is left for him to reach out to?”

Bergman concludes: “Obviously, we can’t know much about other people’s internal landscapes. It may be that nothing could have helped in that moment. Part of the truth of mental health is that not all mental or emotional issues can be ‘solved’ by people being nicer or by inviting the guy out for a coffee more or whatever. I do want to flag the narrative of ‘we should have done more,’ because the flip side is ‘if we do enough, we can help someone to feel better’ and that’s just not always true.” 

In spite of the challenges he faced, Scanlon’s contribution to the trans and queer communities in Toronto and across Canada was significant in both breadth and depth. “Every day, Kyle was looking for a way to help out, and to make the world a better place,” says Hardie. “If we all do a tenth of what Kyle did in his short life, I have to believe that so many of our social problems would be in the past now.”

Comments

  • Robb Travers

    Will miss you my friend – you were such a wonderful guy…

    robb t

  • Lynnie

    I remember doing a panel discussion with Kyle at Osgood Hall before pride about 5 or 6 years ago….. we will all miss his energy. Lynnie

  • Jason O

    RIP Kyle. Sad news.

  • http://joeclark.org/weblogs/ Joe Clark

    Here, as everywhere else, transgenders insist on completely controlling “the narrative.” It is very much open to discussion whether or not dissatisfaction with being female led to becoming male then to becoming a professional transsexual. (Scanlon clearly didn’t want to become a “man.” Were that true, he would have lived as one and we’d never have heard from him again. He became a professional transsexual, endlessly quoted in the press and appearing on TV and running a transgender support program.) That process then might have led to a deep-seated belief that no matter how he altered his life it still wouldn’t be worth living. So yes, there indeed might have been a nexus between being transgendered and being mentally ill enough to commit suicide. Of course we can and will debate that issue even if transgenders tell us not to.

    Further, it’s irresponsible for Torontoist to act like a qualified mental-health researcher and simply announce that depression among transgenders is exogenously triggered by an unwelcoming society. Depression might or might not be comorbid with transgenderism and gender nonconformity. Legitimate peer-reviewed research, as distinct from activist-group polling, could shed light on that issue and possibly already has, but that isn’t what Torontoist reported here.

    A competently edited publication would have caught this kind of nonsense, but I assume Hamutal Dotan simply agrees with David Demchuk on that issue (and on basically everything) and let it slide. It is more important for Torontoist to appear supportive of transsexuals (and critical of a harsh world) than to report factually accurate and substantiated findings.

    It is not obvious why Kyle Scanlon, by his own choice a public figure, committed suicide, and, in a free and democratic society, every possibilities has to be debatable, even possibilities that undermine “the narrative” of transsexuality. The root causes of mental illness are something for scientists to investigate.

    I expect a skeptical eye in reporting this event, not a sob story about how badly off transgenders have it and an up-front restriction on what we can and cannot consider and talk about.

    • Devi

      This is a post mourning the lost of a valued member of our community, it’s the last place you should post this garbage. I don’t pretend to have any insight into what fuelled the emotions that ultimately claimed Kyle’s life. I do know that thousands of trans and gender non-conforming folks all over Canada, all over the world, take their lives because of the hate and ignorance justified by pseudo-science that bigots like you spew. We don’t need someone to tell us about our lives and our experiences and what legitimately helps us. Your comment does nothing but show your own ignorance about not just the experiences of trans and gender non-conforming folks but about the realities of mental illness.

    • Paul

      You know Joe, you really are a tragic, hateful little man.

    • Dianne Kelly222

      Joe,
      Look Kyle was my cousin and although I understand what you are saying, and the why you are saying, maybe being so aggresive right now is not the right choice. there is a time and place for everything, right now Kyle’s friends and family don’t need a debate. While i agree being part of the Queer community or even simply being transgender should not be the main focus as to why Kyle died, and trust me I have very strong opinons about this. the Torontoist article was accurate, and kind, and you know what… they are celebrating his life, not his death or how he died. Of ALL the posts about my cousins death this is the FIRST one to NOT celebrate HOW he died. They honoured his memory and honestly when it comes to death Joe thats all that matters.

      • Wendy

        Well said Dianne,
        I have been looking on the internet for last few days since I heard the news about Kyle, and I am happy to see the loving comments, accolades & posts in his honour. Please lets not make this into a debate about his life or his death.
        I am a part of Kyle’s family, not by blood by marriage. His transgender lifestyle is not an issue that should be discussed at this time. Instead, concentrate on the person that he was, and how many lives he touched or people he helped.
        I think that is a much better way to remember him.

    • Ynotbegoodtoall

      I’ve looked into your history of posts in the Torontoists and elsewhere, and come to realize how much of a negative tool you are in everything you post. Your post was inappropriate, cold and tactless. You are nobody special and your opinion is hardly anything anyone should concern themselves about. I wonder what it is that caused you to be such a jerk to so many people. You have a sad superiority complex, you should look into that.

    • http://twitter.com/accozzaglia an abominable Astrid

      Joe, it’s quality armchair comments like this; like praising a federal move last year ago to forcibly remove religious head coverings for women (on which you praised a Toronto Sun op-ed cover); and some other really misogynist shit along the way which is why it’s best that we don’t follow one another on Twitter any longer. And yes, I re-tweeted your preciously-protected tweets last December which helped to illustrate to others watching the exchange why I was taking you to task on these.

      In retrospect, and in light of this latest remark, I increasingly find you to be a miserable, tedious bore. It’s heavily why I put off your insistence to indulge you in a social tea around the time of the 2011 Jane’s Walk: I didn’t want to deal with an insecure, paranoid, cocky man whose internalized, objectifying homophobia — quite impressive for a white, gay man, no less — is increasingly without peer these days.

      Whatever your beef with trans people may be, table it for somewhere else, sometime else. You write remarks like this at the peril of maiming your own professional credibility in whichever professional discipline you purport to speak as a self-affirmed voice of authority (i.e., web accessibility or the semiotic consistencies of TTC brand language — neither of which exactly make you a special flower in this city).

      Sit down this round and show some humanitarian respect for a dead guy — a guy who was obviously hurting before last weekend — who was respected by, it seems, quite a few people. That’s the least you could do. The most would be to voice an unqualified condolences to every person who just lost a guy they cared about and even loved.

      Protip: showing respect for the deceased is one really useful way you can earn some soft credibility within social circles. You lose respect when you post neurotic-intense comments on news blogs. You lose respect when you develop web pages on your own swell little web sites — which merely do a good job of documenting how much of a miserable, lonely sod you broadcast yourself, knowingly or not, to be.

      Find some way to have a better one, Joe. Even the old Mattachines would have scratched their heads at the way you tick. Seriously.

      tl;dr: Extend a modicum of unqualified humanity for a dead guy.

    • http://twitter.com/RonSly Ron Sly

      You disgust me. Hopefully the Torontoist removes this tripe.

    • Andrea

      Classy, Joe. I hope Torontoist.com leaves this up so that people can refer back to your bitter, hateful post that shows us who you really are. Apparently you are quite triggered by this and decided to direct your upset towards Kyle’s story, which is such a low and pathetic move I lack adjectives to adequately describe it. Do you feel better about yourself writing this drivel and rubbing salt in the wounds of those who are grieving?

      The rest of us will be supporting each other and honouring Kyle’s life, work and memory. I’m sorry Kyle’s family and friends have to be exposed to such insensitive, nasty commentary.

      Rest in peace, Kyle, and thank you for sharing your amazing, beautiful self with our community.

    • James

      What a douche bag. But only douche bags could attack someone who did so much for so many others, while you type your drivel because it’s all you know how to do: be hateful and critical of anything and everything, unless it’s ugly and hurtful.

    • Maureen

      Kyle was a better man than you.

    • nojo

      You’re a dick, joe.

    • Dan

      Joe, skip all the bullshit stuff you said, Go out and be different from everyone else. Get treated like shit. Get spit on, hit for no reason, called names. Feel like your’e not even human for awhile and lets see if that contributes to emotional well-being. “nexus between being transgendered and being mentally ill enough to commit suicide”. Fuck off pal. These people are dying and all you will ever be about this is wrong.

  • http://twitter.com/TransLawCenter TransgenderLawCenter

    Our deepest condolences to all who knew and were impacted by Kyle’s work. His memory will live on.

  • Anonymous

    Just stop feeding this hateful troll. He loves the attention and has displayed hate for trans people in the past. He’s clearly transphobic.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Jesse-Rollor-Coaster/100002386492600 Jesse Rollor Coaster

    Kyle was the best. I miss you so much Kyle.

    Kyle Scanlon was not like most social workers. Kyle Scanlon was a good man with a big hart and cared about his community and animals. Kyle Scanlon also did community out reach in the LGBT community and worked with Former Crown Wards of the CAS.

    Kyle was once on the other end of the phone when Larabee was young, isolated and in crisis.

    I (Jesse Larabee) send my condolences to his family and friends. He saved so many peoples lives with his love and compassion and respect and honesty.

    I (Jesse Larabee) will always remember his kind and loving spirit.

    R.I.P

    May Kyle find peace…

  • http://twitter.com/KevinCarson1 Kevin Carson

    Christ. I can’t believe anybody — regardless of their beliefs — has so little sense of time and place that they can’t even let people mourn a dead friend in peace.

  • http://twitter.com/ami_angelwings Ami

    Rest in peace Kyle. :( I hope you’re at peace now. You were the greatest boss anybody could ever ask for, and you were always there for me when I needed you, and knew when I was feeling bad. You believed in me and gave me a lot of responsibility when I was the rookie on the team, and you gave me a chance when all I had on my resume was my blogs. I will always remember how much faith you had in me, especially when I had none in myself, and I will try to honour your memory and carry on your work and your spirit as best I can. You touched a lot of lives and helped so many people. The world is a better world, and a safer world for trans people because of you, and a poorer world without you. :(

  • Cam

    Kyle shall be missed dearly by all who had the pleasure of meeting him. I met Kyle a little under a year ago, and learned a great deal from him about the challenges faced by those in his community. I feel a great sense of loss for his family, friends, and the lgbtq and greater community. I wish he could have found peace in this life, and hope he has found it in the next.