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Honouring transgender people lost to violence and fostering understanding in schools

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November 20 is Transgender Day of Remembrance. It is a day to honour transgender people who have lost their lives because of anti-transgender violence. The Vancouver School District remembers them.  

Many schools in the District individually recognize Transgender Day of Remembrance. There are also resources within the elementary and secondary curricula intended to educate students and staff all year. 

Béene Savage, District resource teacher, Diversity/SOGI (Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity), works with teams at the provincial and school-based levels. Béene’s role includes training staff, providing professional development, teaching classes, working directly with students, and posting resources for teachers online.

“Students should all see positive reflections of themselves. They should see possibilities for their future selves that are fulfilling,” Béene says. They explain these reflections can be in books at the library, in a short story, or in a math lesson, such as a lesson recently shared with Béene using statistics about trans identified and gender-variant students. 

Béene uses learning about identity as an example of how teachers may fit gender-variant learning into the curriculum. “I speak with teachers sometimes who are talking about doing that kind of learning – like who am I – and sharing about ourselves and recognizing that we all have multiple aspects to our identities, so it doesn’t become about one specific aspect of it, it doesn’t become just about the gender identity of each person in the room, it becomes about the greater picture of how all these pieces of our identities create who we are,” they explain. 

SOGI school leads at each school disseminate resources to staff, such as science lessons about animals that have non-binary genders. 

“It’s just a process of doing the work to support teachers to have the capacity to understand these pieces of identity and to start to feel some comfort around embedding them into other pieces of the curriculum,” Béene explains.

Béene points out there are gender-variant students everywhere and some are invisible. They say it is important to acknowledge Transgender Day of Remembrance because transphobia is very real. “There are harms to trans-identified and gender-variant folks every day out there. It raises awareness about the hate crimes and harms done to trans people and it gives us a chance to not just remember but to mourn those losses, and to put names and stories and sometimes faces to the people who have been lost. It makes it more real and more tangible for people to think about the hundreds of names that are on those lists, and those are people who – like you and I – had lives and connections and deserve to still be here, and hate took them away.” 

Some schools in the District are acknowledging the day by posting displays on bulletin boards or setting up showcases with books and posters. A display is set up in the library at University Hill Secondary. A group of students at Churchill Secondary plan to write facts and names of people memorialized on sticky notes to be posted around the bulletin boards at their school. 

The first Transgender Day of Remembrance was in 1999, following the death of a transgender woman in Boston the previous year.

Learn more about Transgender Day of Remembrance.

Image: Display in the library at University Hill Secondary

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