There are tears. People are grieving. They’ve gathered to remember lives killed over the last year.
You feel a pinch in your gut as the names of the 295 slain trans persons killed around the world start to be read aloud.
An elder has just said a prayer to Creator and is smudging as more names are read.
People in the crowd, many of trans identify, clench. Some come up to take a turn reading what seems like a never-ending list.
The moment is powerful and would make great TV but the organizers of tonight’s event are keeping media in a corner and telling them firmly they can’t film anyone unless explicit permission has been granted.
So the journalists in the room are left to shoot a dull podium, albeit still important, but not as colourful and impactful as the rest of the room.
Some in the room are likely thinking to themselves the media are vultures for being here, but they are not.
They are here because they care and want to give those 295 people the spotlight they deserve. It’s a big deal they are here. There’s not a lot of media to go around to events like these nowadays.
Covering this vigil is important. There are many trans people in Winnipeg.
These people are subject to violence and murder – brutality that’s right here at home.
In 2004, Divas B, a trans Winnipeg woman, was given nine blows to the head as part of a deadly beating.
She was stripped naked and wrapped in plastic when her found was found. Divas was 28-years-old.
Recent clashes between the country’s military and rebel forces have left at least 300 dead. Andrea was in Juba, South Sudan’s capital when fighting erupted on July 7th.
“We saw people running,” she said. “We saw the bodies.”
Andrea said she ran to the concrete home she was staying in when the violent clash happened and credits it with saving her life.
“I was just so scared.”
Speaking in her Winnipeg home Thursday, she said she thought to herself, “I’m there. My children are here, and somebody could die anytime.”
She said she worried she was going to be caught in the crossfire when she was trying to make it home to Winnipeg. The country’s airport was shut down due to the escalating violence, and the Canadian embassy was also closed.
‘We didn’t expect that kind of thing would happen again’
Andrea, who immigrated to Winnipeg in 1998 from South Sudan, said the killings in her country shocked her.
“We didn’t expect that kind of thing would happen again.”
“It’s out of control,” she said as a poster of Nelson Mandela hanging in her living room peeked over her shoulder.
South Sudanese community grappling with news
Reuben Garang, a South Sudanese man, who is better known as a ‘Lost Boy’ for fleeing his country in 1987 with thousands of other children, said the news coming from home is “very disturbing.”
“For a long time, I have never lost hope. This time, it’s very difficult for me not to say that I’m not losing hope, and this is because of the complexity of the situation,” Garang told CBC Radio Thursday.
Garang said the war is creating division in the South Sudanese community, and its local leaders are trying to keep people united.
“It is very difficult to imagine that our own leaders, people that have helped in the struggle (for independence) have turned the country into a killing ground.”
Andrea said despite the violence, she remains hopeful the government and opposition forces will be able to work out a peace agreement.
Turner is a wheelchair user registered with Handi-Transit but rides regular transit because she has a free card from the program.
She got the card after hearing about free fare through a friend who also had a card.
“I try to avoid using Handi-Transit just because you have to book in advance and then you’re on their schedule,” Turner said.
Eva Beaudoin is the chair of the Disabled Women’s Network of Manitoba and said she never heard about the free fare program until CBC News contacted her.
Beaudoin, 58, lives with a disability, uses a cane to get around, and is on a fixed income.
She uses Winnipeg Transit for convenience and sits in priority seating on the bus but said she would apply for Handi-Transit just to receive the free fare.
“I think it should be done for everybody all people with disabilities,” Beaudoin said.
“It would save a lot of money.”
Josh Brandon, a community animator for the Social Planning Council of Winnipeg, said the free fare program should be better advertised so it can reach more people. He suggested the city advertise directly on Winnipeg Transit buses.
Brandon said Handi-Transit is already a program difficult for many to get into.
“There’s always a problem when you have programs that are application based.” “That’s why we prefer programs that are more universal,” he said.
City of Winnipeg spokeswoman Alissa Clark said in order to ride regular transit for free, Handi-Transit users must obtain a photo ID card, which is good for three years.
Clark said the majority of Handi-Transit users have impairments that prevent them from using Winnipeg Transit and suggested that could be the reason for the discrepancy in the numbers.
She said letters are sent out to all Handi-Transit users who qualify for the program and clients are also informed about the free program verbally.
But some say they were never told about the program.
Libby Zdriluk, 30, uses both Handi-Transit and Winnipeg Transit to get around. She said she didn’t know about the waived fare program until a free card arrived in the mail one day.
“It just showed up,” Zdriluk said.
“Obviously, I was pretty mad to find out I could’ve been riding for free,” she added.
Scott Best is legally blind and has a free fare card. But the 26-year-old said he hardly uses it because he finds Winnipeg Transit too difficult to navigate.
He said the free fare program feels “a little weird” since he can’t use it easily.
Terry McIntosh, 54, rides Handi-Transit and doesn’t have the free fare card.
“It would be useful but with our weather in winters I couldn’t use it half the time If I wanted.”
She added she doesn’t mind paying to ride the bus. “We want to be treated equal so why would I use the bus free?”
“It’s probably not a perspective most people would agree with, though,” she said.
STEINBACH, Man. – They got their march, and there were no protesters.
“Love always wins,” said Michelle McHale, the driving force behind Steinbach’s first Pride March.
“I never in a million years dreamed that I would see this before me,” McHale said.
“We kind of thought that if we got all our friends together, family members maybe we’d have 200 people.”
There was no official tally of those in attendance, but an RCMP spokesman estimated as many as 3,000 came out to today’s march and rally.
There were so many people out in support of Steinbach’s first Pride, the march and a rally that followed at city hall were delayed twice.
“Apparently, our roads are not designed for love,” one man shouted.
McHale told a packed children’s park, where the march started, traffic was bumper to bumper backed up all the way to Ste. Anne Man., located some 15 minutes outside the city.
Numbers aside, history was made today in this rural Manitoba city.
Many in Steinbach, a staunchly Conservative community, have fought for months against today’s march. Some threatened to protest.
But there were no protesters seen on city streets here today.
Instead, a sea of rainbow colours and signs denouncing homophobic comments made by some community members brushed over this normally quiet city.
Some criticized the noticeable absence of local politicians like Conservative MP Ted Falk, who said attending Pride would go against his beliefs. Others held signs saying, “God loves gays” and “cancer is not caused by homosexuality.”
Jennifer Schroeder, 24, is from Steinbach and held a pink sign that said “Jesus had two dads and turned out fine.”
Schroeder said she knew holding the sign went against her family’s beliefs.
“We need to break the lines,” “You know there’s tension here in the community, and we need change to happen.”
Mason Godwaldt, 18, was instrumental in organizing Saturday’s march.
The trans man came out last June and said although there’s lots of positive change happening in Steinbach many are still scared to admit they are part of the LGBT community.
“That’s because there are still so many people that don’t agree with it. So instead of being shunned by family and friends they hide who they are. They put on a mask and deny them true selves. I know this because I lived that life,” Godwaldt said.
Most of the supporters at Pride that spoke with Daily Xtra were from Winnipeg, but McHale said there were plenty from Steinbach.
She said she was surprised there were no protesters since some had threatened to take to the streets.
Still, McHale said she expects local queer people will be shunned in the future, but she left those people with a strong message.
“We will not be silent any longer.”
“Love is love is love,” shouted a woman in the crowd after McHale made the comment.
McHale said her message to local LGBT people living in the area to find their allies.
“Allies want to help, but they don’t always know to do,” she said.
Steinbach Mayor Chris Goertzen was also absent from Saturday’s Pride. He didn’t return requests for comment.
McHale said there will be a Pride celebration again next year.