How Toronto's Trans March Has Evolved

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How Toronto’s Trans March Has Evolved

The resilient history behind a march only seven years old.

20140627-Trans-March-2014-World-Pride-Toronto-043-Photo_by_Corbin_Smith

Photo by Corbin Smith.

This year ushers in renewed hope for transgender legislation with Bill C-16 offering trans protections. It’s also the first year since the Trans March began that Pride Toronto’s proposed route has not been met with frustration or fear from its original organizers.

Historically, many transgender locals have disengaged from the Trans March—unless it’s organized by their communities. It may sound like a simple objective, but delving into the seven years of history behind the march makes clear that it has been an uphill battle, where previous Pride Toronto administrations and trans community members were often at odds.

Here, Torontoist takes a look back at how the Trans March has evolved over the years, thanks in large part to the women behind the movement.

2009

ATTENDED BY: 60 to 100 people

Karah Mathiason started it all.

Mathiason has been a fixture in Toronto since 1999, when she started frequenting The 519 Community Centre for information on transitioning. For her, the transgender community isn’t recognized enough for the contributions it has made.

Courtesy of Alec Butler

Mathiason from 2013 Trans March. Photo courtesy of Alec Butler.

“When the [Stonewall] riots actually happened, we were the ones who fought for the rights of everyone,” she says. “You can’t have Pride without trans people. This had to happen for the city, it’s a must.”

Mathiason’s march, which was not recognized by Pride Toronto as an officially programmed event but was supported by the group, was a short route that usually takes 10 minutes to travel: from Church and Bloor Streets to Church and Wellesley Streets. In spite of its distance, many joined Mathiason on her march.

Mathiason began the march in response to Pride’s lack of organizing efforts. The pre-existing Dyke March and Sunday parade did not focus on her experiences as a trans person, nor did it make clear that those visibly taking up space in the streets were transgender.

With car horns screeching in their ears, trans activist Nicki Ward says that once the group reached the Church and Wellsley Streets, they were met with large metal barricades lined up across the street.

“I remember feeling hot rage,” Ward says. “This is my neighbourhood, how could you put a barricade in the middle of my neighbourhood?”

The marchers pushed through the barricades, and finished the first ever Trans March inside the Village.

Although it did not have a permit from the City of Toronto, Mathiason did not violate any laws. It is legal in Canada to organize a peaceful march, and Toronto Police only suggest sending them a notice for review.


2010

ATTENDED BY: 200 to 400 people

For its second year, the community-led Trans March became a Pride Toronto event. In a press release, then-executive director Tracey Sandilands said Pride Toronto had been planning to begin organizing one in past years. “We got involved in order to assist, and this year [we] have undertaken to arrange the march as part of our opportunity to serve this community,” Sandilands wrote in the release.

Pride Toronto started a tradition of a pre-march rally and designated TransSpace, which functioned as an information area that doled out trans resource brochures, in 2010.

The march began at Hayden and Church Streets, and participants made their way through streets still cluttered with festival stalls. Ward says the participants were eventually funnelled through Church Street by way of cattle gates, with the march ending inside a beer garden. Because of this, security guards would ask for identification from those passing through. This Magazine writes that trans community members were not consulted by Pride Toronto organizers.


2011

ATTENDED BY: 1,500…or 200?

The trans march was literally divided in 2011, after a counter-march of 200 marchers split from the 1,500 marchers following the main route that went along Church Street. Led by two trans women—one driving a pick-up truck playing Lily Allen’s “Fuck You,” and Stephanie Wooley walking alongside—the splinter group marched uninterrupted down Yonge Street.

The renegade route formed as a result of frustration felt by trans community members, who weren’t happy with Pride Toronto’s treatment of the march. Chief among concerns was that the Church Street route was shorter than both the Dyke March and Pride Parade. The route also took place at night and away from cisgender crowds outside of the Church-Wellesley Village, which lessened the visibility of those marching.

The counter-march was joined by Canadian politician and Ontario MP Glen Murray, who took to a microphone hooked up to the truck’s sound system to talk to the crowd.

“On behalf of the government of Ontario, we’re with you, we love you. We have a lot more work to do,” Murray said in a video by Xtra.


Photo by Corbin Smith.

Photo by Corbin Smith.

2012

ATTENDED BY: 200 to 500 people

Another year, another splinter march. As the official Pride Toronto route down Church Street marched along, journalist Christin Malloy took on the truck driver’s mantle. She led a second alternative march route down Yonge Street, which occurs after the official Trans March route.

Malloy writes that volunteer marshals had been assaulted by police on bicycles. In a video posted on Youtube, a marshal says they were pushed and misgendered by cops.

Trans advocate Melissa Hudson attended her first Pride Toronto transgender town hall meeting in 2012. She remembers walking in and seeing trans people were not being respected.

“Our rights as a community seemed inconvenient to them, in their need to host a giant lesbian and gay party in Toronto,” Hudson says.

After the meeting, Hudson says she was misgendered and deadnamed (that is, referred to by the male name she was given at birth) by a City official who had signed her official name and gender change documents.

Hudson was out in Toronto as a woman in the 70s and mid-80s. When the AIDS epidemic hit, Hudson says she tried her best to hide. She decided to come out again in 2011, to be honest with herself and those around her. From then on, she knew she had to get involved.


Photo by Corbin Smith.

Photo by Corbin Smith.

2013

ATTENDED BY: 1,500 to 2,000 people

Ward and Hudson decided that 2013 would be the year they spearheaded the organization of the march. They formed a team with other trans women—among them was a naval logistics officer and a tank driver who had seen active service.

As with previous years, meetings were held between Pride Toronto and trans community members. A meeting in March revealed that Pride Toronto had never asked for a follow-up on a Yonge Street closure permit for the Trans March.

The march was officially cancelled by Pride Toronto in a letter to then-police chief Bill Blair, on account of receiving a notice their permit was denied. The organization announced its support for any renegade marches trans community members hosted. Pride Toronto would hold a rally instead.

Hudson contends that they never asked for a permit for the Trans March specifically in the first place. Pride Toronto told her that they had not written a letter of complaint or document on not receiving a permit in their minutes. At any rate, the Trans March received no official recognition or support of their march down Yonge Street from Toronto Police.

Without Pride Toronto, trans organizers found allies in other places.

Anarchists came to the rescue: Bike Pirates, a community-oriented bicycle shop aligned with radical locals. The shop, which reserves its Sunday afternoons for women and trans customers only, helped print T-shirts for the group, spreading the word about the renegade march planned, and marshalling.

Ward and Hudson served police with a notice of the march, and then led the Trans March down Yonge Street officially for the first time.

As the march progressed however, Hudson noticed that Pride sent cisgender volunteers to join them, armed with buckets and asking onlookers to donate money. Cash thrown into the buckets were not seen by Trans March organizers again. The spectacle stung for Hudson: at the time, she says was losing her house and had $300 left to her name; she spent her savings on T-shirts for the march.

All of the trans women who organized the renegade march were unemployed or low-income at the time. They were not outliers—TransPulse reports that although 70 per cent of trans Ontarians have post-secondary educations, their median salary is $15,000.

Besides the landmark Yonge march, 2013 was also the the first year Toronto Police joined the Trans March. This was met with controversy from trans community members who felt unsafe, and those who felt not enough time was given for a collective consultation to take place.

Following the march, Ward condemned Pride Toronto’s organizing.

“The fact that one of the wealthiest members of InterPride/WorldPride contributes absolutely nothing to this community event is disgraceful,” she wrote in a Vice column. “However, not only have they failed to contribute, they have actively set up barriers (literal and figurative) to prevent marches from happening.”

Pride Toronto’s Trans Team leads penned a rebuttal on a blog created for that year’s event, stating that the organization provided meeting space, refreshments, and sign language interpretation when it was asked for.

For Ward, it’s important to play the role of the loyal opposition.

“You get a group like Pride, which was founded on a great idea, but has never had trans inclusion as part of its DNA,” she says. “We can be critical of Pride the festival and yet be very supportive of Pride the concept.”


Photo by Corbin Smith.

Photo by Corbin Smith.

2014

ATTENDED BY: about 5,000 people

World Pride was upon the city, leading Pride Toronto to grow in size. After the dramatic increase of marchers the previous year, the non-profit was able to acquire a City permit that would close a route along Bloor and Yonge Street, all the way to Yonge-Dundas Square.

As for the trans community-led march, community members from 2013’s organizing group took it upon themselves to run another alternative route and chose to set up a Facebook page.

With two marches planned once again, running along the same route, confusion arose over which group was marshalling. Ultimately, the grassroots-led march began marching first, followed by the Pride’s official march.

After this march, Ward, Hudson, and other trans organizers withdrew from the march. The group closed its Facebook page.

“We, the organizers and participants in the 2013 and 2014 community march felt that healthy opposition creates new opportunities…and it is as a direct result of this community activism that the march earned its place on Yonge Street,” the group wrote in a post. “This would not have happened had it been left to Pride Toronto.”


2015

ATTENDED BY: about 3,000 people

After previous trans organizers stepped down, Pride Toronto hosted the longest running trans march last year, along with the festival’s first trans community fair.

A die-in saw trans and non-binary activists lying motionless on the streets, honouring community members who have died. The city lost several trans locals (the community faces higher rates of both violence and risk for suicide), including Sumaya Dalmar, Veronica Diaz, and Ryley Courchene.

2015 trans die-in. Photo by Erica Lenti.

2015 trans die-in. Photo by Erica Lenti.

Similar to the previous year’s route, the march led people deeper into the downtown core as daylight faded. Because of this, many marchers found themselves stranded at Yonge-Dundas Square. Ward says this was a safety concern for many, who told her stories of feeling scared in that area.

“If you put a bunch of trans women in the street among cisgender drunk people, bad things happen,” Ward says. “[Pride Toronto was] warned not just from the trans community—the Toronto Police Service said the same thing and they completely ignored it.”

In August, Milloy resigned from a two-year term of Trans Pride’s volunteer team lead, which she had started months before World Pride. In an open letter to Pride, Milloy cited concerns that the parade was co-opting the trans experience in exchange for corporate sponsorship and criticized executive director Mathieu Chantelois for not taking intersectionality seriously.

“At this point in history, trans women of colour should be running Pride Toronto…Instead, they are apparently unwilling even to approach the organization,” Milloy writes.

She suggests that Trans March organizes itself completely independent from Pride Toronto.

Last year, Pride Toronto also attempted to trademark “Trans* Pride” and “Dyke March,” and were met with widespread outrage from those who saw it as another corporate takeover of their movement. The organization chose to abandon its application last October.


2016

Mathiason, Hudson, and Ward are all optimistic about the direction Pride Toronto has taken for this year’s march. It helps that for the first time, community talks started early and recommendations made were taken into account.

Ward credits Mathieu Chantelois, Pride Toronto’s current executive director, for taking sincere steps in holding conversations with trans elders.

“There was some consultation theatre in last year, but this year was quite genuine and quite sincere,” Ward says. “The organizers had to listen to things they don’t want to hear.”

The 2014 Facebook page was revived, with a post endorsing this year’s route, which begins at Church Street and Hayden and ends in Allan Gardens. Doing so means an unsafe night trip won’t be putting trans marchers in harm’s way at Yonge-Dundas Square.

Ward and Hudson will be speaking at the pre-march rally, and Mathiason also plans to attend.

TK, who goes by one name, is the trans man holding the clipboard at this year’s march. At first as a volunteer, he was Pride Toronto’s arts and cultural manager for many years. Now, TK, 45, is in charge of logistics for Pride’s trans initiatives.

As someone who’s been with the non-profit since 2008, TK was around to watch the march evolve, but at a distance. Working administration means TK has never participated in the march.

“It’s taking time for the community to build up trust with Pride Toronto as an organization and rightly so,” TK says. “I think that Pride has come a very long way in meeting community.”

At first, it seemed as if there wouldn’t be a renegade march opposing this year’s Trans March. But in keeping with Trans March’s history, a group called Transroots Toronto, which has protested various other Pride events for transmisogyny and the unveiling Toronto Police’s mural with Black Lives Matter Toronto, plans to run a separate march on an unknown route.

On motive behind their march, Transroots Toronto organizer Abuzar Chaudhary says that today’s Trans March is too supportive of Bill C-16, racism, and colonialism.

“Trans March is [not run by the trans community], but by Pride, and they’ve toned down the community’s narrative,” Chaudhary says. “We have a shit ton of educating and disrupting to do.”

What’s next for the Trans March?

In Pride Toronto’s Strategic Plan [PDF] for 2016 to 2021, Pride Toronto pledges to remain authentic. “We have enhanced our relationship with the trans* community, increased transparency and diversified programming,” the plan reads.

Should Pride Toronto forget itself, trans locals will be sure to remind the festival of its responsibility.

“This is not in any way ancient history,” Ward says. “I’ve read some great articles on the next generation, [but I’m] a little disappointed in the narrative…as if the existing generation isn’t alive and kicking. And kicking bloody hard.”

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