On September 26, I made a memorial sign containing the names and photos of the 16 trans people reported to have died by suicide so far in 2015; and I took the sign with me to the Second Annual Journey to Hope Walk for Suicide Awareness and Prevention in my hometown of Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan. Della Fergusen, organizer of the event and founder of the organization, saw the sign and as she looked at their pictures she began to cry; then invited me to join her on stage during the opening ceremonies to read all of their names aloud to the gathered crowd of nearly 200 people. It was a sobering experience that will stick with me for the rest of my life, as I recall how close I too have come to my own death over the years.
Less than 48-hours later I learned of not one, but two more reported suicides of trans people occurring on September 28, 2015.
In Toronto, Ontario, Canada, friends and peers of 29-year-old Ryley Courchene have taken to social media to talk about her passing and comfort one another through their grief. Yesterday, a group of anonymous trans advocates added her name to a trans memorial chalk wall located in the city’s Barbara Hall Park. The group hopes to develop the area into a more permanent memorial within the near future.
Ryley’s Facebook page reveals that she studied at the Marvel Beauty School in Toronto and received a certificate after completing Nail Technician training from en Vogue Sculptured Nail Systems Inc. A search of the social media platform shows that she enjoyed doing her friends’ nails, who in turn often uploaded pictures of the work she had done.
There has yet to be ANY significant coverage of her passing through online news sites or in any Canadian publications; which is, unfortunately, not too surprising given that Canadian media barely ever reports on any trans murders, suicides, assaults, or issues in general, at all. It’s just not something we hear about at all up here despite the fact that much like in the U.S., transgender Canadians are also losing their lives and facing tremendous adversity from systemic oppression and acts of targeted, transphobic violence.
Also on the 28th, The Daily Dot reported that at 6:00 AM, 16-year-old trans activist, youth leader, and accomplished writer, Skylar Lee, of Madison, Wisconsin, scheduled a Tumblr blog post to go live which contained his suicide note. In it, he discussed his longtime struggles with depression and mental health issues, and requested of mourners: “Don’t turn my name into a hashtag”.
This comes just 11 days after Skylar made international news after he was published in a highly praised report entitled Power in Partnerships; Building Connections at the Intersections of Racial Justice and LGBTQ Movements to End the School-to-Prison Pipeline. In his contribution to the report, Skylar wrote:
WE CANNOT SEPARATE THE CONVERSATION BETWEEN RACIAL
JUSTICE AND LGBTQ JUSTICE when our oppression and liberation are interconnected with one another. Our identities are intersectional simply because we exist; to say that they are separate enforces White supremacy, creating a culture where it is acceptable for queer and trans POC to be invisible and pushed out of society. We must understand intersectionality to truly be a united force in the fight to dismantle these systems of oppression.
Being East-Asian, specifically Korean, with light skin, able-bodied, and being born a citizen of the U.S., I experience a huge privilege within our education system. I understand that if I was not queer and trans, I would not have been impacted by the pipeline. I also understand that I have still not been as severely impacted by the pipeline as those whom I share community with.
In my activism in racial justice and queer justice, I work with queer youth of color every day who have experienced pushout or are actively being pushed out of school. The direct and indirect ways the School-to-Prison Pipeline have impacted me gives me greater awareness to the urgency of creating programs to combat the pipeline.
It is not justice if we leave behind members of our communities. It is not justice if we ignore the interconnected oppression of those we share community with. It is compliance to the systems that tell us we must fight against each other to uplift our own identity. To dismantle systems of oppression, we must be more creative than our oppressors. We are all socialized to protect these systems, a thought pattern we must actively fight against every moment. One cannot dismantle a system by working within it; rather, one must break outside the limitations of the system itself.
To begin the journey to unification, we must actively and loudly address our own privilege, power, and prejudice. No one can do this perfectly, including myself. We make mistakes, and it is never easy. However, we must never shy away from talking about intersectionality in our activism, for that is exactly what the systems have socialized us all to do. If we do not actively have these hard conversations around racial and queer identities, they will never be addressed nor recognized, and the systems will only maintain their power. I challenge everyone to start their own journey to self-awareness and actively participate in these conversations revolving around racial justice and queer justice.
– Skylar Lee, Power in Partnerships (Page 6-7)
Ryley and Skylar are the 17th and 18th trans individuals reported to have died by suicide so far in 2015. The complete list of victims for this year is:
- January 5, 2015 – Eylul Cansin (23)
- February 11, 2015 – Melonie Rose (19)
- February 15, 2015 – Zander Mahaffey (15)
- February 24, 2015 – Aubrey Mariko Shine (22)
- February 26, 2015 – Ash Haffner (16)
- March 2, 2015 – Sage David (17)
- March 15, 2015 – Taylor Wells (18)
- March 23, 2015 – Blake Brockington (18)
- March 28, 2015 – Ezra Page (15)
- April 2, 2015 – Taylor Alesana (16)
- April 9, 2015 – Sam Taub (15)
- April 28, 2015 – Rachel Bryk (23)
- May 1, 2015 – Cameron Langrell (15)
- May 18, 2015 – Kyler Prescott (14)
- June 24, 2015 – Jess Ships (31)
- June 26, 2015 – Sam Ehly (21)
- September 28, 2015 – Skylar Marcus Lee (16)
- September 28, 2015 – Ryley Courchene (29)
Once again, I urge everyone to PLEASE consider including them all in your Trans Day of Remembrance ceremonies this upcoming November 20th. Like those lost in transphobic murders, I strongly feel that each of those who died by suicide, at least to some degree, also lost their lives as a result of the social and systemic transphobia, discrimination, harassment, violence, abuse, invalidation, erasure, and more, that effects us all. Memorialize them too.
To speak with counselors who have experience in dealing with a wide range of transgender issues, please contact the Trans Lifeline at (877) 565-8860 (U.S.) or (877) 330-6366 (Canada).