Marking Transgender Day of Remembrance is especially important this year amid rising incidents of violence and hatred, the founder of a Nova Scotia-based advocacy group said Monday.
Veronica Merryfield, founder of the Cape Breton Transgender Network, made the comments as she participated in a ceremony to raise the trans flag outside the provincial legislature in commemoration of those killed in Canada and around the world in acts of anti-trans violence.
“Today is a very poignant moment to remember those who have lost their lives. In the nearly 30 years since I’ve transitioned, I’ve lost so many friends, and this year is no different,” Merryfield said, holding back tears ahead of the flag raising.
She said she has noticed a significant rise in anti-trans hate in Nova Scotia over the past year, much of it occurring in schools.
In the past two weeks, Merryfield said she’s received requests for help from five sets of parents whose children have recently experienced transphobia in Cape Breton schools — more than she has ever received over such a short period.
“And this includes one kid who took a pounding to the head and is still off school with head injuries after two weeks,” she said.
Transphobic rhetoric originating in the United States has spread to Canada, Merryfield said, and is reflected in school policies introduced this year in New Brunswick and Saskatchewan. Both provinces’ policies require parental consent before students under 16 can use a preferred first name or pronouns at school.
Merryfield said requiring parental consent for such changes is particularly dangerous for trans students living in “hostile” homes. “And more students live in hostile homes than one might imagine,” she said.
Nova Scotia’s government has said it will not introduce a policy similar to neighbouring New Brunswick, but Merryfield said transgender children in the province still remain at a high risk of experiencing transphobia and violence.
Lisa Lachance, the NDP spokesperson for 2SLGBTQ+ affairs who hosted the flag raising, renewed the party’s calls for action to combat homophobia and transphobia.
“Young people and their families are really facing increasing amounts of discrimination, hatred and violence, and they’re facing that at schools and in communities,” Lachance, who uses the pronouns they and them, told reporters after the flag raising.
As many as 15 per cent of students have experienced homophobia or transphobia at school, according to a May 2023 survey prepared for the Department of Education with responses from more than 66,000 students. The survey also found that 43 per cent of Nova Scotia students witnessed homophobia or transphobia while at school.
Lachance said they’ve received a number of emails from families of students who felt their schools did not have adequate resources to address instances of transphobia in the classroom or on the schoolyard. The NDP is calling on the Department of Education to hire in-school student support workers to help LGBTQ students. It also says students need improved access to LGBTQ literature and support to run Gender and Sexualities Alliances clubs.
The NDP is also asking the Progressive Conservative government to “unequivocally condemn transphobia and hate.” In a statement on social media Monday, Premier Tim Houston marked the day of remembrance by acknowledging lives lost due to violence and transphobia.
“We will continue to work to build up a Nova Scotia that is inclusive and free from hatred and intolerance,” he said.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau also shared a statement about Transgender Day of Remembrance on social media, calling transphobia unacceptable.
“Today, we remember those whose lives have been taken because of this hate, and we recommit to making sure that everyone can be who they are — openly and proudly, without fear,” Trudeau said.
READ MORE FROM 2022: Flag raised at B.C. Legislature marks Transgender Day of Remembrance
Lyndsay Armstrong, The Canadian Press
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 20, 2023.