Ottawa Pride Invisibilizes Trans People

and what you can do about it.

Trans people are the most marginalized of LGBT people. In a previous commentary I discussed objective measures of this, here:

A number of organizations whose mandate specifically includes trans people—often with significant policy promises also—actively contribute to our marginalization.

I have described Egale Canada in Perspective of the Oppressor which can be found here:

Another such organization is Ottawa Pride—which now styles itself Capital Pride—whose website can be can be found here:

To read Ottawa Pride’s Constitution and bylaws and to speak with its promoters is to receive the impression it is an organization inclusive of trans people and works to bring all LGBT people to the mainstream of society.

On the Ottawa Pride website today:

A Human Rights Vigil is planned at Ottawa’s Human Rights Monument with key government speakers, international leaders of the GLBT Community and media personalities. We will renew the public fight against discrimination world-wide where GLBT citizens still face the death penalty in eight countries.

Many here, in the GLBT community have died by different and sometimes violent means. This will be the day to celebrate life and to remember those that have passed before us. In keeping with the 2008 theme ‘Live Your Pride’, we present a Queer Community Town hall event with Ottawa Centre MPP Yasir Naqvi, in partnership with Egale Canada as well as local, federal and provincial politicians in an evening of film, discussion and camaraderie at Ottawa’s City Hall from 7:00-9:00 p.m. followed by the 2nd Annual Human Rights Vigil at 9:00 p.m.

This is a natural development from Pride’s focus in recent years.

One rarely hears about the deaths of trans people, particularly transsexual people and I have never heard the deaths of trans people in Canada mentioned in the three Ottawa Prides I have participated in.

No hate crimes are recorded against trans people so it is difficult to keep track. There is also a certain squeamishness since many trans women are sex workers, so class is an element, too.

However, a quick search of the Remember Our Dead website shows this:

Location: Toronto, Ontario, Canada
Cause of Death: Strangled
Date of Death: August 26, 2003
Source: Toronto Police Department, August 26, 2003
Notes: Cassandra Do, or “Sandra” as her friends knew her, was working as a sex-worker under the pseudonym “Tula” in Toronto, saving up for genital surgery and nursing school. She had many friends. She was found in her 11th-floor apartment. An autopsy concluded that she was strangled to death.

And a review of the website reveals the Xtra West story of the 2003 murder of Shelby “Tracey” Tom in Vancouver:

It can also be found on the Remembering Our Dead website.

In 2005, following Canadians for Equal Marriage and Egale Canada, Ottawa Pride announced that all LGBT people in Canada have recognized human rights and it is time to celebrate. The announcement was made in a spectacular Pride Guide designed by Glenn Crawford. This, of course, was and is quite incorrect. When I emailed my concern to the officers of the Pride Committee they emailed me a private apology some months later and explained they didn’t know.

I appreciate the acknowledgment but the hurt this statement causes trans people in Ottawa to this day requires a statement equal in profile to the declaration in 2005; I have been looking every year for one.

In 2006 the focus of Pride was youth. The GLBT Townhall that year was about youth. However, only gay youth were invited. I learned trans youth had been specifically excluded even though Trans Youth Ottawa was quite active that year and the usual concern, that there are no trans people who can or will participate, was not the reason.

In 2007 the focus of Pride, as again this year, was on the situation in other countries. The films and commentary concerned the violence against gay and lesbian people. These were particularly appalling and there is no question the situation of gay and lesbian people in other countries is very bad.

However, I remember no footage or commentary regarding the lives of trans people, violence against them or their deaths; it is certainly harder to find because trans people are, as in Canada, more marginalized than gay and lesbian people. Though I am sure it is there to be found.

The lack of evidence is not evidence of no abuse, in other countries any more than in Canada; it is merely evidence of greater marginalization.

There was an event at the Human Rights Monument for trans people but I don’t remember it being advertised in the Pride Guide that year or with any of the profile of the abuse of gay and lesbian people elsewhere—it certainly had the air of being a last minute event.

The Pride Guide that year, published by Capital Xtra, made no mention of the greater marginalization of trans people. A letter over the names of Pride Officers declared the focus of Pride was on people in other countries.

I asked Marion Steele, a long time Pride official, about the letter and she told me Capital Xtra did it; I asked Gareth Kirkby, editor/publisher of Capital Xtra who told me the letter was treated as advertising and there was no input from Capital Xtra. I shared my concerns with the Pride committee in its review of 2007.

Marion Steele was one of the Pride Officers I emailed in 2005.

I understand how difficult it is to change direction, especially with many more years of history than the ones I’ve detailed above pushing. But matters of right should not be ignored simply because it is inconvenient to change or that the numbers of those concerned seem small.

Pride has amends to make to trans people for invisibilizing us over the years.

A first step would be to make a simple and direct acknowledgment of Pride’s history and the pain it causes trans people in a high profile statement.

A second step would be to fully recognize our ongoing marginalization as a high profile focus of Pride today as the marginalization of gay and lesbian people in Canada has been the high profile focus of Pride yesterday and gay and lesbian people in other countries is the high profile focus of Pride today.

Some point out it is inconvenient to change the message of sexual orientation because there are so few trans people that when they eventual come out as gay or lesbian it will be unnecessary. This leaves out the medical concerns of transsexual people and all the concerns of those who do not come out as gay or lesbian—gender identity and gender expression have no connection with sexual orientation.

Unless the message is changed, trans people will never be recognized in our totality.

This was one of the arguments against same-sex marriage—it is inconvenient to the many, many more straight people for such a small number of gay and lesbian people to dictate to them what form marriage will take.

Of the many eloquent challenges to this argument I will only cite Sue Barnes, Liberal MP for London Centre, who rose in the Third Reading Debate on the Civil Marriage Bill—the same-sex marriage law in Canada—in the Parliament of Canada to address this point.

In matters of human rights, she said, numbers are unimportant.

It is in Hansard for those who wish to check up on me.

Numbers did not matter when gay and lesbian people in Canada were the debate; numbers should not matter when trans people in Canada are the debate.

I’ve been encouraged to approach Pride again this year with my concerns—particularly considering the Chair this year is a self-identified transgender woman. While I’m quite prepared to help Pride come to terms with its years of invisibilizing trans people—and how this has materially contributed to ongoing difficulties in addressing the objective measures of our marginalization—my personal representations in 2005, 2006 and 2007 proved ineffective at best.

I am not Pride’s most favourite person and, quite frankly, I am not prepared to challenge gay orthodoxy on my own.

That is where you, dear reader, come in.

I appeal to all who agree Ottawa Pride has amends to make to trans people, and not just in Ottawa, for the effects of marginalization spread out like ripples on a pond across Canada and the world. Even as Ottawa Pride and Egale Canada have abandoned trans people in Canada to concentrate on gay and lesbian people elsewhere.

It is important to act if you are trans, or transgender if you prefer, or transsexual if you prefer—we’re all in the same boat here.

It is also important to act if you are not.

Because trans people, as far as anyone now knows, are such a small number we must reach out to allies in the larger non-trans—now often called cissexual or cisgender—world.

This includes not only people who are straight but also people who are gay, lesbian or bisexual because the commitment to dignity and equality for all should know no boundaries of sexual orientation.

To act you can address yourself to the following:

Ottawa Pride:


PO Box 2428, Station D,
Ottawa, ON K1P 5W6


For those members of the GLBTQ Ottawa Centre email list, you can send your concern to:

You could even send your concerns to Egale Canada

its email list:

By Phone: (613) 230-1043

(888) 204-7777

By Fax: (416) 642-6435

By Email:

or the Egale Canada Facebook group if you are a member.

A note on “invisibilize:” An important concept for trans people is our absence despite our clear presence and even acknowledgment in the world. It is part of privilege and its flip side marginalization/oppression, that is, for those more mainstream the qualities that make them mainstream are invisible to them as are those whose lives call into question these qualities.

For sexual orientation, the privilege is called heterosexist or heterosexism and whose marginalization/oppression is called homophobia.

For transsexual people, the privilege is cissexual privilege and the marginalization is transphobia. Julia Serano explores this in her book, Whipping Girl. This has been a very important book for me.

The first time I came across the concept was in Viviane Namaste’s book Invisible Lives and also in her more recent book Sex Change, Social Change. Invisible Lives is, among other things, an exploration of the work of Mirha-Soleil Ross in both of Canada’s “two solitudes” in Montreal and Toronto. Ross started Meal-Trans, a weekly meal for low-income trans people that was the beginning for Trans Services at The 519 Centre in Toronto.

More recently, I came across the term “invisibilize.” I came across it as used by Linda Green on the Rainbow Health Network email list.

Both terms describe what happens to trans people in both literature and real life. Green’s musings on the effects of privilege on marginal people, rending them invisible even while present—and of no importance even while present—resonate strongly in my own life and work.

Unlike “erase/erasure” which seems to suggest trans people cease to exist—I was tempted, for a moment, to use “disappear”–”invisibilize” as well as forcing attention on a coinage, points out we are still present. And I believe that is the salient point.

Green’s essay, with Mandy Bonisteel, Implications of the Shrinking Space For Feminist Anti-Violence Advocacy, has been of great help in my own life and work.


Mandy Bonisteel & Linda Green: Implications of the Shrinking Space For Feminist Anti-Violence Advocacy

Available online:

Namaste, Viviane: Invisible Lives: The Erasure of Transsexual and Transgendered People. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000.

Namaste, Viviane: Sex Change, Social Change: Reflections on Identity, Institutions, and Imperialism. Toronto: Women’s Press, 2005

Serano, Julia: Whipping Girl A Transsexual Woman on Sexism and the Scapegoating of Femininity Emeryville, California: Seal Press, 2007

One Response to Ottawa Pride Invisibilizes Trans People

  1. Carol Newhouse says:

    I agree with all of the points Jessica makes about Ottawa/Capital Pride marginalizing trans people and issues. While I do not believe they should dominate, (trans people/issues are only a PART of the queer community) they should definitely not be ignored and it would seem that the time is now to focus on this domestic issue is now, before we become rooted in queer issues in other countries.

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