During Pride week, a beautiful mural was erected to commemorate for the transgender women of colour who had been murdered over the past year. The mural featured the names of the murdered women, among them Sumaya who had been killed in Toronto earlier this year.
Trans people in Canada face high rates of violence with 62% reporting experiencing moderate to high levels of transphobia and 26% having been assaulted. These numbers are higher, however, for transgender women, and higher yet for transgender women of colour.
This mural was vandalized this week, with the messages “all lives matter”, “no double standard” and “you’ve been warned.”
The vandalized mural was subsequently painted over with the message “If all lives matter then why are the stories of trans women of colour continually erased?” along with “black lives matter.” This too was defaced within a day.
This is unfortunately unsurprising for Ottawa. The Sandra Bland mural that had gone up this past summer in honour of the American black woman who died while under police custody had also been defaced within days of going up. Her name was covered up with “All Lives Matter”, likely to repudiate the “Black Lives Matter” movement that was active in the United-States despite having no explicit reference to the latter in this mural.
Also in Ottawa this year, posters that were affirming women’s rights to live free of sexual harassment were defaced with messages like “sexism”, “gender profiling” and “man haters.”
This backlash goes beyond posters. When an anti-racism campaign at the University of Ottawa sought to provide a space for people of colour to discuss their experiences, white people in this city deemed it so insupportable as to raise a big enough fuss to receive national attention. Those who experience racism in this city were thus denied a space to talk about racism, because white people felt they were excluded.
When a group is habituated to having all voices and spaces catering to them, they regard that as normal, and any challenge to that hegemony as unfairness and being oppressed. They’ve never had the perspective of living in a world where spaces are regularly inaccessible and the voices don’t represent them, which is what minorities in this city have been habituated to.
And so when there’s a little challenge to the order of things, and a minority is granted a small public or private space to talk about their issues, like a support group or little corner in the Village, members of the majority will misinterpret that as being discriminated against and work to shut these few voices down. In this city, over and over these efforts to silence those few voices have found success.
Ottawa was already the city that spits on trans people, throws stuff at them, calls them faggots and freaks, has politicians work against them, and beats them up. Now it’s the city that defaces murals honouring those that were murdered with “you’ve been warned.”
Ottawa is many things, but a place that is safe for trans people and especially a trans women of colour it is not.