By Neil Armstrong
The Black Coalition for AIDS Prevention (Black CAP) and the City of Toronto have launched a public awareness campaign to encourage Torontonians to challenge their perceptions of transgender and non-binary people – specifically trans youth of colour.
The campaign was created in consultation with Black CAP's Community Advisory Committee (CAC) which is comprised entirely of racialized transgender youth.
The creative concept starts the public conversation with the most basic fact required to begin to understand trans and non-binary Torontonians – the difference between gender and sex.
Regarding common misconceptions about trans people, Tatiana Ferguson, project lead for Black CAP and a black trans woman, says people don’t understand that trans is an umbrella term.
“There is this understanding that for most trans people they’re either going to want to identify as men or transition to become men or women, particularly for youth who are more gender fluid or non-binary and who don’t want to be grouped or categorized in those normative ways.”
She says the campaign promotes visibility for trans people of colour because oftentimes trans identities and trans spaces have only been white.
“So we wanted to showcase the fact that there are Black, African, Asian, Indian, and we didn’t have any Two-spirited folks featured as models but we did reach out to Two-spirited people of the First Nations. We wanted to show that trans is a diverse group racially as well.”
In terms of the difference between gender and sex, Ferguson said gender would be defined as an internal sense of self and that is why the photographs in the campaign have “My gender lives here” above the heads of the models.
“It’s really connected to the brain, how people view themselves, and sex would be defined as one’s anatomy. They’re physical characteristics, the genitalia, and gender is different from sex. Gender is really about how people feel about themselves and it’s an internal sense of self. It has a lot to do with how we view ourselves in our brain, our mind and not what our body is composed of – not our anatomy. So that’s why we just put ‘not here’ [in the groin area].”
Mayor John Tory says Toronto continually strives to be a place that provides opportunities and supports the well-being of all its residents.
"This campaign, which emphasizes that members of the transgender community are part of Toronto, is very timely. The City is committed to developing gender-inclusive services and policies to ensure we serve all of our residents."
Ferguson says in order to understand the needs of trans youth of colour, various aspects of their identities must be taken into consideration.
"Understanding how race, gender, sex and class interplay and create barriers for trans youth of colour is a fundamental component required to identify and address the needs of trans youth in Toronto."
She says this is using an intersectional approach and understanding that gender is separate from race, race is separate from sex, and class is pre-defined, she says.
“For a lot of youth who are people of colour, in terms of systemic barriers, they do experience poverty and homelessness and that impacts the level of harassment, discrimination they may be experiencing if they are living in a shelter or a group house that’s not supportive of their trans identities,” says Ferguson.
She says due to racial inequalities, people of colour, black people experience racism which can also impact how they navigate services throughout the city.
Ferguson says trans would be just one aspect of their identity but “when we start to look at various aspects, in terms of their race, whether they’re living in poverty or in the shelter in those types of support housing units, whether they have a physical, mental or intellectual disability and whether or not they identify as gay, straight, or otherwise, bisexual – all these things can take different tolls so it amplifies the oppression that one may experience, not just based on their gender identity.”
The campaign was launched in the midst of Pride Month so it was definitely the time to talk about LGBTQ issues and in the past, historically, trans issues have not really been mentioned, she said.
“We decided that now is more appropriate because we’re talking about erasure,” she says, noting that it was also topical because of Canada’s 150th birthday and the focus on the impact of colonization on various communities.
Ferguson says colonization has affected the trans community and how people view trans people.
The campaign was timely as well because of the recent passing of Bill C-16 which amends the Canadian Human Rights Act to add gender identity and gender expression to the list of prohibited grounds of discrimination.
“We want people to understand what gender is, both cis gender – people who identify with their sex assignment at birth, and trans people who do not identify with their sex assignment at birth, are going to be impacted by gender identity with this new legislation. And we thought it would be a most appropriate time to have these dialogues and to raise awareness while celebrating all of these monumental changes.”
Ferguson says this is the first campaign of its type that specifically addresses racialized trans youth during a time when legislation is changing and becoming more supportive of trans identities.
“We’re confident that this campaign will lead to important conversations about gender and sex and how we can reduce the significant barriers that trans youth of colour in our city experience in their homes, schools, workplaces and beyond," said Shannon Ryan, executive director of Black CAP.
The campaign, which features real Torontonian racialized trans youth and uses transit ads and social media, was created by the social impact agency, PUBLIC Inc.
The goal of the campaign is to educate and encourage respectful and meaningful dialogue about transgender and non-binary individuals.
It also seeks to empower and motivate trans people to get involved in educating others about trans-specific issues.
Ferguson is proud of her involvement in the campaign and the participation of an advisory team of eight racialized trans people providing feedback and input “so that our message is more unanimous.
The way we want to tackle the issue is in solidarity with other trans people and it’s not a singular voice that’s being mentioned.”
“I’m really glad and I’m really happy that the city has decided to take it on, although it could have been done with previous campaigns. Trans people are impacted by homelessness; the City of Toronto did a homelessness campaign. Trans people are also impacted by xenophobia; they’re newcomers who are relocating to Toronto and the anti-Black racism campaign could have had a trans perspective in it, but it was absent. I’m glad that the city has decided to really commit to centering racialized trans voices and also youth, seeing that the youth demographic is so much at risk when it comes to being a vulnerable community,” she said.
“The campaign website provides information and resources to educate Torontonians about non-binary people and encourage residents to recognize the systemic biases that trans people, specifically trans youth of colour, face in their daily life in order to foster more understanding and advocacy amongst the cis gender community. (Cis gender individuals are those whose gender identity matches the sex that they were assigned at birth.),” notes a media release from the City of Toronto.
This is the fourth phase of the City's Toronto for All campaign which has an overall goal of creating a Toronto that says "no" to all forms of discrimination and racism.
Phase 1 ran in the summer of 2016 and focused on Islamophobia. Phase 2 was launched in the fall of 2016 and addressed anti-Black racism. Phase 3 ran in the spring and addressed the discrimination of homeless men. All campaign phases have successfully encouraged conversations among Toronto residents and media regarding the relevant issues.
Asked what the response has been like since the campaign was launched on June 19, Ferguson says it has been positive.
“What we have been noticing is that because we’re talking about an intersectional approach to this issue there were critiques on like, why focus on youth, or why people of colour. So, being able to respond to those and really expanding people’s knowledge of trans issues and how it relates to racism, and how it relates to classicism, and oftentimes, how racialized trans people are not being centred, their voices are often unheard, so really addressing those types of critiques but overall the reception has been very positive. There have been a lot of people who are like, ‘it’s about time the city has decided to do a campaign like this, it’s about time the city has decided to really recognize racialized people and try to address issues that impact trans people.’”
There are also upcoming community conversations -- Black CAP will host a ‘T-Love’ exhibition on July 14 at its office and the City of Toronto will host ‘Open Dialogue’ on July 27 at North York Civic Centre.
The ‘Open Dialogue’ is about service providers addressing or bringing to the forefront some of the challenges that they have working with the community as well as providing an opportunity for the community to make recommendations to those service providers. The exhibit is really showcasing some artwork that trans women of colour, particularly African, Black, and Caribbean trans women created during three workshops earlier this month [in June] and providing an opportunity for them to share what their experience of self-love and self-acceptance is, and what it has been like, what were some of the challenges to really live their true selves being impacted by so many barriers,” says Ferguson.
Both events are free and open to the public.