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Transforming Construction

Kalen Taylor is the founder of Purpose Construction.

We asked LiisBeth board member Jack Jackson to share a transformative story about someone who has inspired them, in celebration of International Transgender Day of Visibility (TDOV) on March 31.

Jackson is the co-founder of the inspiring social impact project, Don’t You Want Me (DYWM), a global documentary photography project showcasing LGBTQ people with their rescue dogs. Queer and trans people, who are often rejected by family and friends and live on the fringes of society, tell their stories of finding new purpose and connections, of reintegration and resilience, the catalyst being the arrival of their rescue dog. Look for the DYWM banner exhibit on display outside the Toronto Humane Society for TDOV.

Jackson chose to highlight the story of fellow entrepreneur, Kalen Taylor, owner and founder of Winnipeg-based Purpose Construction. The non-profit social enterprise’s mission is to hire people who face barriers to employment in the trades: women, queers, trans and non-binary people, newcomers, refugees, and people transitioning out of the justice system. The company offers a trades-training program, living wages, and a deeply supportive work environment.

Started in 2010, the company has completed $11 million in commercial and residential contracts and given employment to 244 people over that period. It has recently reached $2 million in annual revenue, with a payroll of 40. For every dollar that goes to Purpose Construction, $4.29 goes towards social impact.

As Taylor says, “Really, we are in the business of economic inclusion, carving out a safe space in construction for those of us who aren’t straight white men.”

As Jackson says, Taylor’s work shows us what happens when love is taken away—by discrimination, hate, and ignorance—and how people flourish when it’s given back. In the midst of a pandemic, stories like these remind us of what’s needed—and what’s possible.

Here’s their conversation.


Jack Jackson: How did you start working in the traditionally male-dominated construction industry?

Kalen Taylor: I come from a construction family. My parents both ran small businesses in the construction trades. When they couldn’t find child care when I was young, they would bring me along to construction sites. If I was sick, I was hanging out under the boardroom table while the adults argued about building projects. So, in many ways, construction feels like home.

At the same time, I grew up listening to my mother’s stories about how brutal it was to be a woman working in the trades in the ’70s and ’80s. She told me stories about throwing up from anxiety because the sexual harassment on site was so bad. She told me stories about clocking a guy on site for grabbing her butt. “Because sometimes kiddo, you’ve got to hit the guy first and ask questions later.” She was my hero.

I also knew that construction was not a place for everyone. It was, and is, an overwhelmingly white, cis-male space. The gatekeeping is no joke. Even today.

Jackson: Can you recall a specific moment of wanting to effect social change or did it happen organically?

Taylor: I also saw the power of the construction trades to change people’s lives for the better. When I was growing up, my older brother spent some time in and out of jail. A criminal record effectively excludes you from the legal economy, leaving you with very few options to earn a living and support yourself. I watched how that economic exclusion can lead to a cycle of recidivism as people are driven back into the illegal economy to support themselves—through no fault of their own.

Construction is one of the few sectors of the economy where a person can earn a middle-class wage with limited formal education–and where there are real opportunities for continuing advancement. In the end, my parents pulled some strings and found my brother a job as a construction labourer. Ten years later, he earns more than any of my university-educated friends. He’s had the opportunity to turn his life around, and he has. I can’t think of any other sector of the economy with the power to transform lives the way construction can. Especially if you’re white, cis, and male.

But what about the rest of us? What about the women, the queers, the trans and non-binary people, refugees, newcomers, and people coming out of prison without family connections to pave the way to a career?

I live in Winnipeg, a deeply racially divided city where the Indigenous population is dramatically over-represented in the prison system and systemically excluded from the economy when they are released—a cycle that has been going on for generations. The construction industry remains a totally unsafe space for visibly queer/non-binary people like me, so I made my own company to ensure we all have access to the economic opportunities construction provides.

Jackson: Who has your company helped?

Taylor: I’m totally humbled by the people I work with. They’ve experienced pain and hardship that most people will never come close to understanding. Senay Masazghi, our lead carpenter, fled religious persecution, was kidnapped and imprisoned. The jail he was sent to was underground, no one knew where he was, and no one could visit him. There was a single hole that let in air and sunlight. Senay was imprisoned there for five months. Senay travelled for months on foot across borders to reach Canada, surviving a migration that many others didn’t.

Jackson: You changed your name, pronoun, and had gender-affirming surgery. How did you navigate this while running a company?

Taylor: A few years ago, I came out at work as non-binary. I’d put it off for a long time simply because I was nervous about marginalizing myself further in a sector where I was already an anomaly. As the public face of Purpose Construction, I was also worried that I wouldn’t be able to bring in clients and the whole company would suffer. But I realized that if I was dedicated to making sure there was a space for all of us in construction, that meant me too. All of me.

The response has been mixed but, overall, better than I thought. Within Purpose Construction, there has been nothing but support.

A few months ago, a really beautiful thing happened. Our team was interviewing a new hire—they were queer, Indigenous, and had a history of involvement with the justice system. At one point, one of my colleagues asked what their preferred pronoun was. There was a really long pause. Finally, they said, in a really low voice, “Oh, it doesn’t really matter. I’m sort of in the middle. But whatever, it doesn’t matter.”

Then, everyone started talking at once.

“It does matter! And it’s all good.”

“The boss is non-binary! Whatever you want us to call you, we’ve got you.”

“You just tell us what you want to be called and we’ll do it.”

It was a really nice moment. It was also a moment when I realized how important it is to be doing this work in public as a non-binary person. How, maybe, I can create small places for other non-binary and trans people to come out, feel safer, and be respected. Visibility is important. I’m still here, and I’m still bringing in new clients, and I’m getting better and better at navigating people’s questions and responses to my gender.

I’ve learned the importance of owning my story. Being non-binary isn’t something I need to apologize for. It isn’t something that’s getting in the way of my work. It’s a part of the work. It’s a part of the reason why Purpose Construction exists.

Jackson: You’re doing groundbreaking work. Can you tell us a bit more about your latest project?

Taylor: In the last year, our team has found ourselves bumping up against the same problem again and again. Many of our employees don’t have access to safe, affordable, and secure housing. The personal ramifications of this are devastating, not to mention the ripple-down effects. We have parents working for us who have children in the child welfare system. They have stable employment, they’re clean, their life is on track. So why aren’t they with their children? Because they can’t afford a house with enough bedrooms to meet the legal requirements for family reunification.

There are over 700 families on the waiting list for subsidized housing units over two bedrooms. There are just no options for these families. The Canadian government is separating families, largely Indigenous families, based on poverty alone. My employees are part of my family, and I can’t see them suffer like this and do nothing.

One day in the office, we just had this collective moment. We were like, “Fuck it. We build stuff. If no one is building affordable housing, why can’t we?”

We purchased three vacant infill lots in Winnipeg’s North End and, today, we’re getting ready to build our first three houses.

They’re going to be physically accessible, highly energy-efficient four-bedroom houses. By waiving all profit and administration fees, partnering with granting organizations, community partnerships, buying discounted materials from suppliers, we’re able to build a house for about $230,000—and sell the house to people working with us for about $140,000, with no down payment requirement.

It’s huge. It means that families would be paying $650 a month for a brand new four-bedroom home. It is truly affordable. It means they own it, they get to build equity and value in that home over a lifetime. It’s a retirement asset. Most importantly, it means that people can be reunited with their kids, and can raise a family in a safe and secure place.

This is early days yet. We haven’t even broken ground on the first three houses. But we’ve been in negotiations with the City of Winnipeg to give us 20 more vacant inner-city lots for a low cost or free, so we can build a lot more affordable housing in the neighbourhoods that need it most. It’s a drop in the bucket compared to the need in our community, but it is something tangible we can do with the skills we have.

Discrimination, both systemic and societal, remain a major contributing factor to minorities ending up in the justice system, living in poverty, or living on the outskirts of society. Purpose Construction is giving people and communities a fighting chance at leading a normal life, of building a sustainable and stable life for themselves and their families.

Jackson: Beautiful! What a transformative story! It’s time we told our stories.


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LIISBETH DISPATCH #51

Photo by Drop the Label Movement on Unsplash

PK’S VIEWPOINT

It’s April 2019. How difficult is it to launch and grow an innovative an independent journalistic media enterprise? Especially since the industry appears to be collapsing around us. What unique barriers do women-led media entrepreneurs face?

Three years ago, with the support of a few advisors and friends, I launched LiisBeth. We became increasingly concerned about the significant and persistent gender, diversity, and inclusion issues in the growing entrepreneurship and innovation economy. We saw that no one was dedicated to interrogating these issues from a feminist point of view. We ignored the fact that media enterprises were folding all around us. In the Canadian news media space alone, over 260 outlets have closed in the last 10 years.

The fact that there are fewer journalists today than ever before didn’t give us pause. Since 2011, for every job lost in journalism there have been 17 jobs added in public relations and advertising (-1,230 vs. +21,320). We tenaciously believe the fourth estate—versus spin doctoring—remains important to any functioning democracy, and that storytelling can transform lives, society, and the course of history. We persist despite the odds. We pivot and iterate. That’s what entrepreneurs do. 

So, what’s it like to grow a media enterprise? Two quick answers come to mind.

It’s beyond hard. Investors love media tech platforms. But are wary about investing in journalistic content. Even fewer want to spend money investing in feminist-informed editorial programs that might upset the status quo. Or unnerve friends in positions of power who helped them get to where they are. Fear of reprisals for truths told are a real concern for many. Society also doesn’t like to hear from women who think. Feminist writer Rebecca Solnit says: “Who is heard and who is not defines the status quo. Those who embody it [the status quo], often at the cost of extraordinary silences with themselves, move to the centre; those who embody what is not heard, or what violates those who rise on silence, are cast out.” What she is telling women media entrepreneurs is this: Starting a fashion blog or parenting media property would be far less risky. And likely more successful in attracting readers and growth bucks.

Barriers? Plenty. Starting with having an opinion, and a vagina—especially a mature one. Women publishers in search of truth, with iron stomachs and interrogative skills, scare people. Women over 50, like myself, are ineligible for the vast majority of publicly funded entrepreneur support programs which generally favour youth. As if that demographic, lovely and challenged as it is (I have an 18-year-old), is the only one capable of innovating and in need of income. We end up bootstrapping and growing our ventures one subscription at a time, feeling very much alone.

We need more women-led news media entrepreneurs than ever before. If what we want is a more inclusive society—and democracy—we need women of colour, Indigenous women, feminists, and LGBTQ media enterprise founders in this space.

How will we get there?

(Read more)

THIS WEEK ON LIISBETH

Photo: msichana.com

DO YOU KNOW WHO MAKES YOUR CLOTHES?

Would you pay more for a special piece of clothing if you knew where it came from? If you knew the women who made it? If you knew where the fabric was sourced?

Msichana gives you those answers. We spoke to Lorna Mutegyeki, the fashion designer and entrepreneur who runs Msichana out of Edmonton, Alberta.

Read what she has to say about funding a business, wanting to quit, and why she keeps going here.

WHAT WE DID ON INTERNATIONAL TRANS DAY OF VISIBILITY (MARCH 31)

Human Rights Commission (HRC) advocates tracked at least 26 deaths in 2018 of transgender people in the United States due to fatal violence. The report goes on to say: “While the details of these cases differ, it is clear that fatal violence disproportionately affects transgender women of color, and that the intersections of racism, sexism, homophobia, biphobia and transphobia conspire to deprive them of employment, housing, healthcare and other necessities, barriers that make them vulnerable.”

HRC founded International Trans Day of Visibility in March 2009, and it’s been gaining momentum ever since.

This year, LiisBeth participanted in a related with two amazing entrepreneurs, Jack Jackson and Deb Klein who launched their new global photography project, “Don’t You Want Me” which showcases the beauty and resilience of LGBTQ people with their rescue dogs.

Find out more about the project, power of love, and the experience here.

LIISBETH FIELD NOTES

Photo: msichana.com

FEMINIST FREEBIE

Be one of the first fifteen people to leave a comment on the Msichana story at LiisBeth.com  (scroll to the bottom of the piece) and receive a discount code for free shipping, or if you already qualify for free shipping, a special gift with purchase. Check out #accentsbymsichana which includes belts, scarves, jewelry, and know you are supporting ethical fashion. 

The Alinker – a vehicle for social change

IS WHAT THEY TOLD YOU ABOUT ENTREPRENEURSHIP STILL RELEVANT?

What kind of person—and entrepreneur—will flourish in a future that has not yet been invented? And what if the language for who you are and what you do doesn’t exist yet?

This is the question inventor and gender-queer entrepreneur BE (barbara) Alinker asked the audience during a talk delivered during Interntional Women’s Day weekend 2019 at SheEO’s RadGen event.

The answer? Don’t let the fact that there is no language for what you are and do undermine your confidence. Learn how to be what BE calls a multi-specialist.

In a world that prizes entrepreneurial norms, the multi-specialist entrepreneur, a hyper-adaptable person who learns new skills extremely fast often feels like a “queerdo”. They are misunderstood. And worse, marginalized by investors who have a template in their minds regarding what a “safe bet” entrepreneur or entrepreneurial process looks like. Today, that typically means male and following 1990’s Silicon Valley dogma.

Alinker, who has been a coffin builder in Kenya, a bassoon player for a rebel dyke band, a production manager for a $17M glass art project for an airport in Doha, Quatar, a wordwork restoration architechted in Saudi Arabia, and now the inventor of a mobility device tells the audience that multi-specialists are seriously upsetting to most people, especially status-quo bound institutions and investors.

Her message? Don’t worry.  

In an era marked by tectonic plate level social transformations driven by crumbling capitalism, climate change and weaponized AI,  Alinker is convinced that the multi-specialist dreamer who quickly masters a range of  skills, often self-taught, acts authentically according to their visions and values, and trusts in the power of on the ground communities, will ultimately be best equipt to truly innovate, thrive–and succeed.

Alinker, says “I can’t tell you the number of times that people told me: “You are all over the place”, “You have no focus”, “You are scared of committment”, “Why do you run away?”, “You never finish anything”, “You are a scatterbrain”, “Messed up”, “Chaotic”, “Crazy.”

But in Alinker’s view, that is exactly what a person capable of flourishing in these times looks like.

LAST MONTH’S FEMINIST FREEBIE WINNERS!

Thank you for your comments on our recent story When Aunt Flo Becomes CEO, a profile of the author of Heavy Flow.

Abigail Slater and Kasey Dunn will be receiving signed copies of Amanda Laird’s new book. Congratulations!

NO KIDDING, HELLO APRIL!
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[VIDEO] A glimpse of the premiere of the interactive installation HANDSHACK at the Remai Modern, Saskatoon, SK, January 2019.

REACH OUT, TOUCH ME

In a world of instant communication, our first contact with people is often through the Internet, phone, text, e-mail. All day we touch screens and punch plastic and metal buttons. Our over-usage of electronics minimizes human contact in our day-to-day lives.

Enter, HANDSHACK. An interactive installation part of The Hands On Project created by feminist artist-preneur Marites Carino.

The installation invites strangers to get to know each other through a tactile conversation. Unable to hear one another, participants wear headphones and are guided in this silent interaction. Their interaction, projected through a live feed, takes an accepted form of first contact, the handshake, and twists it into an unexpected choreography.

“By entering this realm where visual perceptions are no longer at the forefront, perspectives shift,” says Carino, based out of Montreal, Quebec. “We see beyond the ways we differentiate ourselves and end up connecting through our commonalities.”

In the era of #MeToo, and Build the Wall, HANDSHACK offers a safe playground for consensual touch and human connection. After the curtain call, participants think they have encountered another, but in fact, they have confronted themselves.

This sensorial experience has been awarded an artistic residency and production grant and will be remounted in Montreal on May 11th, 2019 at the Oboro gallery during the Accès Asie Festival.

Dr. Wendy Cukier / Photo credit: theEYEOPENER

WENDY CUKIER TALKS WOMEN’S ENTREPRENEURSHIP

In December 2018, Ryerson University’s Diveresity Institute received $8.62M+ to create a Women’s Entrepreneurship Knowledge Hub (WEKH). Spearheaded by Ryerson Univiersity’s Diversity Institute and its founder, Dr. Wendy Cukier, the WEKH will include eight hubs across the country, with Ryerson and OCAD sharing the Toronto region. The WEKH will serve as a network of researchers, universities, business organizations, incubators, and community groups who will address the needs of women entrepreneurs. Over 37 organizations are officially part of the Hub’s partnership network.

LiisBeth talked to Cukier when the announcement was made in December 2018 during the Entrepreneurial Feminist Forum.

We caught up with Cukier again last month at a #IWD2019 Business, Government, Services and You event in Toronto where she shared her views on how best to unleash the potential of women entrepreneurs across the country. 

Cukier noted women’s chronic under representation in publicaly supported incubators, accelerator and government entrepreneurship programs as an important barrier. She also questioned the veracity of creating a “separate lane” for women entrepreneurs, suggesting this may create more harm than good.

Alternatively Cukier sees a world where entrepreneurs of all genders and backgrounds can “on ramp” onto a different, more inclusive kind of twelve-lane versus two-lane innovation highway. A highway to economic heaven that will be more drivable for a much wider variety of entrepreneurs and approaches to venture building—versus just those in noisy muscle cars or Teslas. Cukier argued in her talk that part of the reason for the current bottleneck is the fact that we define entrepreneurship too narrowly. “If you broaden the definition of entrepreneurship to include social change and activism, suddenly the women appear.” She adds: “Women are doing what the guys are doing—just in different sectors.”

To hear the full one hour talk, plus see the accompanying slides, click here.  [NOTE: The link is valid for one year. You will see a note pop up saying there is no content to view. Click play and it will start. Unfortunately, all presentations are included in the one recording. Wendy’s presentation begins at time stamp 1 hr 40 mins 30 secs]

WHY HAVE WE NOT MADE MORE PROGRESS?

Sarah Kaplan, Director of the Institute for Gender and the Economy (GATE) on using research to CHANGE THE CONVERSATION on gender equality

Photo : Paulina O’Kieffe-Antony, Arts educator, artist and consultant, TORONTO

BREATH OF FRESH AIR

Paulina O’Kieffe-Anthony is an award winning Toronto writer, performer, producer, arts educator, community advocate and member of the League of Canadian Poets.

O’Kieffe-Antony delivered a wicked, inspired spoken word poem performance during How She Hustle’s International Women’s Day Event in March 2019. How She Hustles is a Toronto-based network diverse women’s entrepreneurship network.

We are delighted to share it with you here. O’Kieffe-Antony is also a contributor to a Canadian chapbook called “Feminism: Revolutionize—Revisit, Revise, Revolutionize: A Two_Part History which can be found here.

HOTEL OPERATIONS FROM A FEMINIST POV + EXCLUSIVE DOWNLOADABLES!

Toronto’s Gladstone Hotel operates within a feminist, anti-oppressive framework where everyone feels welcome and at home. And its owner and staff can tell you creating a framework like this is not easy. It takes effort and commitment to implement policies on a consistent basis.

If we are going to change the world, we need all start ups and growing small enterprises—not just large progressive corporations—to think about incorporating anti-oppression policies into their own employee and partner conduct guides and handbooks.

Not sure what an anti-oppression company framework might look like?

Good news. The Gladstone has generously agreed to make available their vision statement here and anti-oppressive policy framework here. Check it out. And tell us what you think by reading our original article and adding your comments below the piece.

LIISBETH STORY VOTE

NEW! ANSWER FROM OUR LATEST POLL:

Last month we asked readers which story we should publish next. We received only a handful of responses. But hey, our view is it takes time for readers to get to know how this works—and that voting does work.

The winning pitch from last month is: A story on the legacy left behind following the Wakefield, UK miners’ strike which was famously supported by gay and lesbian organizations—and serves as an example of an intersectional movement long before the word was coined. Readers are wondering what is Wakefield is like now? Did activism have a lasting impact? We will be contacting the journalist shortly!

UPDATE FROM OUR LAST POLL: 
Portrait of former Swedish Feminist Initiative Party Leader, Gudrun Schyman, will be published in May. Stay tuned. You vote. We listen.

WHAT WE’RE READING

In their new, long-awaited collection of essays, Lambda Literary Award-winning writer and longtime disability justice activist and performance artist Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha explores the politics and realities of disability justice, a movement that centres the lives and leadership of sick and disabled queer, trans, Black, and brown people, with knowledge and gifts for all.

Bringing their survival skills and knowledge from years of cultural and activist work, Piepzna-Samarasinha explores everything from the economics of queer femme emotional labour, to suicide in queer and trans communities, to the nitty-gritty of touring as a sick and disabled queer artist of colour.

Care Work is a mapping of access as radical love, a celebration of the work that sick and disabled queer/people of colour are doing to find each other and to build power and community, and a toolkit for everyone who wants to build radically resilient, sustainable communities of liberation where no one is left behind. Powerful and passionate, Care Work is a crucial and necessary call to arms. – Arsenal Pulp Press

Jasmine and Chelsea are best friends on a mission–they’re sick of the way women are treated even at their progressive NYC high school, so they decide to start a Women’s Rights Club. They post their work online–poems, essays, videos of Chelsea performing her poetry, and Jasmine’s response to the racial microaggressions she experiences–and soon they go viral. But with such positive support, the club is also targeted by trolls. When things escalate in real life, the principal shuts the club down. Not willing to be silenced, Jasmine and Chelsea will risk everything for their voices–and those of other young women–to be heard.

In Watch Us Rise, these two dynamic, creative young women stand up and speak out in a novel that features their compelling art and poetry along with powerful personal journeys that will inspire readers and budding poets, feminists, and activists.

“This intersectional, layered novel…it covers a wide breadth of topics-institutionalized racism, how we undermine young women, feminism in the modern age-with a clear message: Girls are going to come out on top.” –  Marie Claire

AND FINALLY . . . IN CASE YOU MISSED IT!

  • From the Vaults episode “Turning Points” (Canadian Broadcasting Corporation) features Sarah Mclachlan, host of the 2019 Juno Awards and creator of Lilith Fair, an all female music festival that began in 1997, and shifted the perception of what it meant for women in the music industry. Fun fact: Lilith, in Hebrew mythology, represents Adam’s first wife who refused to lie beneath him so he threw her out. [Geoblocked in Canada]
  • An expert discussion on “What could a feminist city look like?” took place at the Rotman School of Management on March 27th. The talk was moderated by moderated by Sarah Kaplan, Director and Professor – Institute for Gender and the Economy at Rotman. Check out global feminist city guides from Lagos to San Diego, here.
  • An estimated 40.3 million people are currently living as slaves–more than at any other time in history.Why Slavery? is a series of ground-breaking documentary films investigating why slavery remains so endemic in the 21st Century. The Passionate Eye will broadcast two films in the series, Maid in Hell and North Korea’s Secret Slaves. [Geoblocked in Canada]

That’s newsletter #51!

If you found value in what you read here or in the original articles on our website, we hope you will consider donating one time or becoming a monthly subscriber for as little as $3/month.

Feminist media matters. We believe storytelling and journalism can change the world.

Demonstrating growth in paid readerships is not just about the money—it also helps us secure sponsorships and grants—it serves as proof positive that readers value what we do.

To donate one time or become a donor subscriber, click here.

Next newsletter will come out early May! We will publish the exact date closer to May on Twitter so you don’t miss it! 

Peace out,

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Allied Arts & Media

The Power of Love—and Trans (National) Collaboration

AVI & WARREN: TORONTO–“I haven’t had a severe panic attack in over a year since I got Warren. I used to get multiple attacks per day.”–Avi                               Photo: Jack Jackson

It’s not everyday that you find yourself at a party in a startup gourmet pet food store with 80 people and ten dogs. But in this case, at the launch of a new movement to elevate trans awareness, it made perfect sense.

Toronto-based and Canadian newcomer trans-preneur Jack Jackson and New York-based Deb Klein are both professional photographers and multi-skilled entrepreneurs with a passion for dogs and gender justice. They came together to create Don’t You Want Me (DYWM), a globally sourced photography project that showcases stories about trans and queer people whose lives have been transformed by the acceptance and unconditional love they experience from their rescue dogs. The startup photo-plus-stories project will leave you wondering, who rescued who?

The launch was held in Toronto, Canada at Tom & Sawyer, a socially progressive pet food store with an onsite production facility, doggy bakery, plus comfy couches and Wi-Fi. The exhibit opened on March 31st, International Transgender Day of Visibility, a global initiative founded by Human Rights Campaign, a 3M+ membership-based LGBTQ civil rights organization based in the United States.

Reuben and Luna in Brighton, UK

I do think that a part of me was trying to heal myself by taking care of someone else that was broken and forgotten, our new skinny, sick, terrified Lunie-bear.”           – Reuben

“I work 70 hours a week in my current venture but wanted to work on developing this project as well because frankly, I’m furious,” said project co-founder Jackson. “Why? Because discrimination causes so much harm. Let’s take Charlie over there, 22, who volunteered here tonight. His family has actually disowned him. Things are still really, really hard for [trans] people. No one is doing anything about it.” Recent research shows that 16-24-year-old trans kids who have supportive parents are far less likely to suffer from depression or attempt suicide.

Charlie and launch party participants

Jackson adds: “I think these kinds of stories need to be told. Because people still don’t get it. They think oh, you’re trans, and they think that is the issue, but being trans is not the issue, discrimination—society’s perception of trans people, is the real issue. Trans people have something really important to say. Something that doesn’t just affect trans people, but also women, effeminate men, basically anyone that doesn’t fit the heteronormative norm.”

At present, there is little data on the total number of trans people in Canada, or their experiences. However, qualitative research is clear that there are significant barriers to social and economic inclusion. TransPulse, an Ontario-based community research hub estimate in 2014 that “as many as 1 in 200 adults may be trans (transgender, transsexual, or transitioned).” And while Canada has recognized trans discrimination as a hate crime and illegal in its charter of rights and freedoms, trans people continue to face physical abuse, unemployment at three times the national rate, and high rates of mental health issues.

The pain experienced as a result of social exclusion and brutal discrimination, especially from those who at one point, loved you, were part of many stories shared at the launch event. T Thomason is a UK-born 23-year-old who was raised in Halifax. The “trans-guy” indie pop star was recently signed by Taylor Swift’s record label and performed an acoustic version of his latest singles, “Bliss” and “Hope”, the latter of which he says taught him a lot about being a trans person.

T. Thomason playing an acoustic version of his song “Bliss”

I just walk, and the farther I go

I am stepping with a changing shadow

I just walk and I hope I am getting close

Catching up with all the ghosts I would like to get to know

Past all your fears, you will find bliss

Hold onto this, move past your fears, you will find bliss.

— T. Thomason, Bliss Lyrics

Statistics show that over 43% of trans people eventually attempt suicide, yet Jackson is hopeful about the future. “Deb [Klein] and I were talking about trans people going swimming. In Brighton [U.K.] that is a real issue. For me, in Toronto, I was scared shitless about the first time I went swimming, just in shorts. And absolutely no one gave a shit — that was awesome.”

Klein, a New Yorker, scout for the “Queer Eye for the Straight Guy” production company, bass player, and foster mom to rescue dogs, found Jackson on Instagram. She loved his idea and his photography, and quickly signed on to partner on Don’t You Want Me. Klein and Jackson plan to grow the project into a global movement. “This launch is just the beginning. We hope to see a thousand more photos and stories like this submitted to our project from around the world,” says Klein.

The DYWM “minimal viable project” exhibit will stay in east Toronto’s Leslieville neighbourhood at Tom & Sawyer until April 6th, and will then be moved to Black Lab Brewing for rest of the month. Tom & Sawyer co-founder, Kristen Mathews, a former forensic accountant whose love of animals led to starting her doggy bakery and pet food company three years ago, didn’t hesitate to host the exhibit. “T & S is very welcoming to the community. A lot of LGBTQ community members have dogs and cats who they consider part of the family.”

For those who can’t make it to the exhibit, don’t worry. LiisBeth has prepared a two-minute slide show of the event, including some of the featured photos. We hope you take a moment to watch and share, in support of equality and visibility for trans people in your community and everywhere. Enjoy.


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