The 519 ballroom was teeming with an infectious community spirit on the evening of January 23, 2020. Two-spirit, queer, and trans communities, and allies gathered in the spirit of a community-led teach-in titled TRANScend/TRANSform: A Teach-In with Trans folks & Allies.
Led by a panel of prominent community members: authors Gwen Benaway and Kai Cheng Thom, and activists Monica Forrester and Chanelle Gallant, the teach-in was in response to transphobic actions at major public institutions. It was meant to educate the general public about issues affecting the trans communities and how allies can help create inclusive spaces.
What is a teach-in, one may ask? And why have one, to begin with?
Protests and boycotts are important aspects of community responses, but it is equally important to create opportunities for dialogue and educate the public about issues impacting the community. As moderator for the teach-in, Kai Cheng explained that this particular type of action comes from the tradition of community organizing and activism, and is meant to complement other direct actions like protests.
"A protest is intended to raise voices and disrupt business as usual. A teach-in, on the other hand, is an opportunity for community members to share knowledge and educate each other about our common causes and strategies for making change."
– Kai Cheng Thom, panel moderator
As the evening progressed, the panelists touched upon various themes and issues, including free speech vs. hate speech, “gender-critical” feminism and its history and continued impact on trans communities, the importance of supporting leadership of trans people of colour and sex workers, direct action steps for allyship, and creating safer and braver spaces.
The open-floor Q&A was an opportunity for the audience to share sentiments and engage with the panel. ‘What direct steps can we take to support our trans siblings?’, ‘how can educators be better allies to trans communities?’, ‘what ideas could we use to help trans folks have better access to housing?’ These were some of the questions asked. A librarian in the audience expressed their solidarity with trans communities.
Supporting the event from The 519, Jaymie Sampa, Manager of Program Development and Partnership at The 519 expressed, “The sheer breadth and diversity of the panelists, the audience, and the content covered was so impressive. It just felt like a huge privilege to be in the room.”
It was a full house that night. It was heartwarming and powerful. It was evident that this isn’t a flash-in-the-pan moment, but an ongoing community conversation that people want to be invested in. A conversation we hope will continue and help impact change.
“Trans-exclusionary feminism is the fear that there is not enough room for everyone to be free, and the desire for supremacy. Its views impact how we relate to each other within the queer community. It’s important [for me] to understand [but certainly not agree] with these views, so that we can heal, and protect future generations of trans women and fems.”
– Kai Cheng Thom, panel moderator
“Protecting the freedom of expression right over our protected charter rights as trans people – that’s an issue. I’m hoping people will see through this teach-in that we’re here for dialogue, for conversation.”
– Gwen Benaway, panelist
“We need to decriminalize sex work. It allows trans- and sex worker-exclusionary radical feminists to dictate how sex workers are treated. And this pushes violence against sex workers. It allows predators to violently hurt us. It also allows our justice system – the people that are supposed to protect us – to say that we’re at fault.”
– Monica Forrester, panelist
“The fight over transphobia and ‘whorephobia’ in feminism is not a dispute within feminism. It’s not a diversity or inclusion issue, nor a free speech issue. This is actually an issue of power. Hence, the solution is not about including all sides. It’s actually about breaking the power of bigots, even when they’re feminists, and giving that power to trans women and sex workers.”
– Chanelle Gallant, panelist