Transgender Day of Remembrance service in Brandon focuses on joy of living authentically

A ceremony in Brandon, Man., on Friday, ahead of the Transgender Day of Remembrance this weekend, spoke to the sadness of loss, while looking with hope toward the future.

Leila Praznik, the keynote speaker for the service at Brandon’s Knox United Church, celebrated the joy of living authentically in the transgender, non-binary, gender-queer and otherwise gender-diverse community. 

“I wanted to open up with all of the joyful experiences that have come as part of me discovering my true gender,” Praznik said. “It should ultimately be a journey of self-discovery … and really finding your true self.”

Praznik grew up in Brandon, and began fully exploring her gender identify in August 2021.

“I went and bought a bunch of new clothes. Slowly, and over time I played around with them — the ideas of being a few different gender identities,” Praznik said.

“March of 2022 was when I decided, you know what? I think I am a transgender woman.”

Tea lights sit in blue and white candle holders.
The Transgender Day of Remembrance, observed every year on Nov. 20, is an international day of mourning and memorial for transgender people who were killed in the past year. At Friday’s service in Brandon, candles were lit in their honour. (Chelsea Kemp/CBC)

But Praznik said there also has to be recognition of how bigotry can prevent transgender, non-binary and gender-diverse people from living joyfully — especially when it comes to youth in southwestern Manitoba.

Friday’s service in Brandon was part of combating that hate, said Praznik, by showing representation in rural spaces in and around Brandon.

“The best we can do is represent ourselves,” Praznik said. “People need to be aware that we’re out here…. We are the people who are harmed by whatever forms of transphobia there are out there in the world.”

Part of that awareness comes through the Transgender Day of Remembrance, observed every year on Nov. 20 — an international day of mourning and memorial for transgender people who were killed in the past year. Services and vigils often include a reading of some of those names.

In Brandon, a second Transgender Day of Remembrance virtual service was planned for Saturday evening, after Friday’s service.

On Friday, Praznik said her hope is others will be able to share in the happiness she has found by embracing her authentic gender. Those experiences can serve to fight transphobia, she said.

“That’s the idea we should strive for, to not have to do this service, to not have these several dozens, perhaps even hundreds of names that we have to read out every year because of transphobic violence.”

Connecting with rural youth and families

Racheal Wu, the 2STLGBQ+ program facilitator with Brandon’s Sexuality Education Resource Centre, says accessibility to information, resources and support looks very different for LGBTQ youth in a rural community.

The team at her resource centre works to make sure those young people feel included and thrive, by helping build community and culture. 

“Hopefully, you know, as we continue to break those things down, we don’t have youth … feeling like they have to move to urban centres to get that sense of community and connection, and we can keep all those amazing people in our own communities.”

A person stands in front of blue and white candles lit for Transgender Day of Remembrance.
Racheal Wu, the 2STLGBQ+ program facilitator with Brandon’s Sexuality Education Resource Centre, says it’s vital to show LGBTQ youth in rural communities they are not alone. (Chelsea Kemp/CBC)

One of the biggest parts of that philosophy is showing LGBTQ people they are not alone, said Wu, which is critical in smaller communities.

“I think we all look to feel like we belong and connect and feel that love from one another,” Wu said.

“That trans joy just, you know, continues to increase and grow…. Having those folks out there is so incredibly important and is really kind of like a light or a beacon for folks in those communities.”

Laura Crookshanks is the co-ordinator for Brandon and Area PFLAG (Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays) and a member of the affirm committee at Knox United Church. 

Over the years, that committee has worked to support LGBTQ people within the church and in the broader Westman community, with a goal of inclusion for everyone. 

An older woman stands in front of a colourful LGBTQ booth.
Brandon PFLAG co-ordinator Laura Crookshanks stands at a booth for the Transgender Day of Remembrance. (Chelsea Kemp/CBC)

“We recognize that there are LGBTTQI [lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, two-spirt, queer and intersex] people in all communities,” Crookshanks said.

Her hope is to “celebrate with them the joy … and recognize that we all have a role to play in being open and accepting.”

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