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.
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.
People living with disabilities are calling on the City of Winnipeg to make sure they can catch a seat on the bus hassle-free.
Advocates say overcrowded buses and parents with strollers are leaving wheelchair users on the curb.
The Independent Living Resource Centre said parents with strollers are taking up accessibility spots on buses on a daily basis.
Allen Mankewich, a wheelchair user and consultant with the Independent Living Resource Centre, said it’s an issue he deals with regularly.
“I had an issue myself the other day. There was myself on the bus, one of my colleagues [and an] oversized stroller with three wheels on the bus,” Mankewich said.
Allen Mankewich, a wheelchair user and consultant with the Independent Living Resource Centre, said Winnipeg Transit should create a policy so oversized strollers don’t take wheelchair spots on Winnipeg Transit buses. (Austin Grabish/CBC)
“We basically had to play Tetris to get ourselves in and out of the bus.”
Libby Zdriluk, 30, uses a power wheelchair to get around and said she’s had to wait in frigid temperatures during the winter because strollers have taken the only space available for wheelchairs.
She wants Winnipeg Transit drivers to make sure wheelchair users get on the bus hassle- and confrontation-free.
Currently people with disabilities are being left to fend for themselves, she said.
“I just wish the drivers would automatically say ‘move over’ or ‘get off the bus for a minute,’ but they just don’t seem to do that,” she said.
The City of Winnipeg said it has decals on all of its low-floor buses to indicate designated areas for wheelchairs and strollers.
Spokeswoman Alissa Clark said drivers are trained to help passengers with wheelchairs or strollers and are supposed to ask riders without mobility issues to move if a seat is needed.
But Eva Beaudoin, 58, said it’s always a struggle finding room on the bus when there’s a stroller. She said she finds it awkward asking people to move so she can ride the bus.
“I have to practically ask for a seat and then I get a dirty look,” Beaudoin said.
“People don’t move.”
But not everyone in the disability community feels wheelchairs should be given priority over strollers.
Winnipeg disability advocate Jim Derksen said he wants the City of Winnipeg to add more flexible seating on its buses, so both wheelchairs and strollers have more room.
“I believe in universal design and don’t think our needs are any more important than parents with children,” Derksen said.
John Callahan, president of the Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1505, which represents Winnipeg bus drivers, said the union wants more buses put on the street to help deal with the issue.
He said drivers have raised concerns about strollers taking accessibility spots on the bus and the absence of a policy instructing drivers what to do about it.
“It’s something that’s been around for a long time, but there’s been no official stand on how to approach it,” Callahan said.
“I think they need to look real seriously at it.”
U.K. Supreme Court case
In the U.K., the battle between a wheelchair user and a bus firm has gone to the country’s Supreme Court.
Disability activist Doug Paulley took his case to a lower court in 2012 after being told he could not get on a bus when a mother with a stroller refused to move.
The Supreme Court held a hearing into the case in June and Paulley said he hopes to receive a ruling from the court in the coming months.
He said he is optimistic about the case and hopes it will end with better enforcement of the rights of people with disabilities.
“Public transport should be available for everybody,” Paulley, 38, told CBC News via Skype from Wetherby, England.