Jennifer McCreath is a St. John’s-based trans rights activist. She will be travelling to a number of communities across the province this week to mark the Transgender Day of Remembrance.
In the past year, 238 transgender people have been murdered worldwide, simply for being who they are. That number doesn’t include the number of transgender individuals who take their own lives each year because they’ve been told what they are is wrong. Nor does it factor in violence, both sexual and physical, against trans people, or the verbal abuse and harassment they are often subjected to.
That’s why each year the trans community takes a day to remember the victims of violence, spread awareness, and a try to fight the transphobia that is sadly rampant almost everywhere in the world.
Jennifer McCreath is a member of the trans community and is an outspoken advocate for transgender rights in both Newfoundland and Labrador and around the world. She will be travelling across the province with several other trans activists this week to mark Transgender Day of Remembrance, and will be holding a vigils in Gander, Clarenville, Grand Falls-Windsor, and Springdale. The event in Grand Falls-Windsor will be at 9:30 p.m. on Tuesday, Nov. 19, outside the Town Hall on High Street.
This is the 15th annual Transhender Day of Rembrence, it was started in 1998 in memory of Rita Hester who was murdered that year because of her status as a trans woman. Many cities and towns around the world now hold vigils and other activities on around Nov. 20 to mark the somber day.
McCreath is based in St. John’s, but said this year she decided to bring the Transgender Day of Remembrance to smaller communities in Newfoundland and Labrador. She said she thinks it’s important to reach out to both trans people and the general population across the province.
“People have been really reluctant to treat us with dignity as human beings, and to take us seriously.” McCreath said. “Because of that people are afraid to hire us, they’re afraid to let us rent their apartments, they’re even afraid to let us into their social circles.”
As an activist with a strong presence on the web and in the media, McCreath said she often gets emails from transgender people in small communities who are terrified to come out as trans because of the general fear and misunderstanding that exists in Newfoundland and Labrador.
“They are terrified to death,” McCreath said. “They’re completely concerned about coming out and starting this, they’re worried they’ll lose their job, lose their friends, lose their family, and they’re worried about violence.”
McCreath said a lot of the negativity towards trans people is a result of misunderstanding about what it means to be transgender.
“I think the major concern is that there’s a lot of either misunderstanding or just outright lack of knowledge. Or perhaps even worse, there’s a lot of old myths based on 1970s mentality that trans people are either mentally ill people or they’re sexual fetishists,” she said.
So, what does it mean to be a transgender person? Transgender is used as an umbrella term that encompasses all those whose gender identity does not match with the gender they were assigned at birth.
“Almost by default when someone is born male, we raise it in the gender role of boy and it’s up to that individual to grow up and learn to either feel comfortable with that or recognize warning signs that say ‘you know what I think there’s a mistake here,’” she said. “So in my case, there’s a female brain that for some reason is born with male parts.”
McCreath said she was 33 before she started her transition into living as her true gender.
“Trans people can’t stay closeted, you go through this transition and the whole world sees you evolve from one sex to the other through the various changes of appearance, the hormones that we take, it takes a long time for that change to develop,” she said. “Every time you walk out that door you’re outing yourself.”
McCreath said on top of the fears of judgment and discriminations, being trans often means struggles with the healthcare system for proper medical treatment, something she hopes to improve in Newfoundland and Labrador through her advocacy.
McCreath said it’s important for the public to realize transgender people are more than just their status as trans. Aside from being a transgender person and activist, McCreath is an animal rights activist, and athlete and a runner who has ran in the Boston Marathon twice. She’s also politically active and ran for deputy mayor of St. John’s in the last municipal election.
“A lot of trans people are too busy just trying to survive that they don’t have the energy to reach out and be a community leader, I’ve been fortunate enough to integrate myself into a variety of areas,” she said. “I think it’s important that people (across the province) meet someone who has gone through this process, and my goal will be to leave a good impression on these people.”
McCreath said by reaching out to smaller communities and being visible she hopes to help combat some of the myths associated with being transgender.
“I’ve gone through the process and I’ve demonstrated my ability to function in society and take on the role of a normal everyday person, and I think that’s what people need to see. They need to see that trans people are just like everybody else.”
McCreath said she urges everyone to come out to the Transgender Day of Remembrance in their communities to remember the victims of violence, and help fight transphobia.
She said she’ll be reading out a list of victims and how they were killed, lighting some candles, and taking time to talk and meet with those in attendance.
“The theme of Transgender Day of Remembrance is we’re ultimately memorializing victims of violence and I think it’s important to be able to stand up and say ‘we will not be terrorized,’” she said. “I’m extending my hand in friendship, and I hope to meet as many people as I can, and want everyone else out there that’s not trans to realize there are transgender people in the province. I want to say ‘I’m Jennifer McCreath, I’m a trans person and I’m not afraid to step foot in your town.’”
For more information on Transgender Day of Remembrance events in your town, on McCreath’s activism, or to contact McCreath, you can visit her blog at jennifermccreath.blogspot.ca.