Halifax women's march split amid online attacks about transgender rights
Adina Bresge, THE CANADIAN PRESS
Published Saturday, January 20, 2018 5:40PM AST
Last Updated Saturday, January 20, 2018 8:16PM AST
HALIFAX -- The women's march in Halifax was roiled by divisions, as members of an offshoot event showed up to call for the recognition of marginalized groups after some people said they felt unsafe at last year's gathering.
Throngs of people returned to Halifax's Grand Parade square on Saturday for a rally on the one-year anniversary of Donald Trump's inauguration as U.S. president.
People held up signs on issues ranging from worker's rights to the jailing of a Palestinian activist during an event that included a Mi'kmaq prayer, a Chinese lion dance, a traditional Indian dance and a drumming performance.
As former Halifax poet laureate El Jones took to the microphone for her performance, a group of activists arrived at Grand Parade banging on drums and wafting pink smoke through the crowd before they made their way to a separate gathering elsewhere in the city.
Organizers of that event, dubbed the walk for intersectional women, said some transgender, Indigenous, black and other marginalized people felt unsafe at the main event after facing attacks at last year's march and online.
"We're here, but there's women who aren't, and we have to ask where. Transwomen who don't feel welcome or safe. Women who face threats when they come into this space," Jones told the crowd.
"We haven't arrived until all women are with us, right here."
Sandy Brown, who drove two hours to Halifax from Liverpool, N.S., for the women's march at Grand Parade, held up a pink, blue and white sign reading "All Women" in support of her transgender granddaughter, who she said did not feel safe to attend after her experience at the inaugural women's march a year ago.
"They certainly didn't feel welcome," Brown said. "It just seems to me that there's strength in everybody being together. Once we start bickering and dividing ourselves, then we've lost our strength."
Carolyn Davis, a co-founder of transgender support group First Love Yourself who spoke at the women's march, said she did not feel unsafe at the event and believed it was important that transgender voices be represented.
"I feel bad that (others) didn't feel safe being here," Davis said in an interview. "There's pain there, and it's pain that needs to be recognized."
A flyer credited to the Halifax Chapter of Socialists for Male-Exclusionary Radical Feminism was circulated at the women's march, saying the group does not oppose transgender rights, but wants equity to be achieved without "erasing women" or eroding sex-based legal protections for women.
As the Grand Parade event wrapped up, a group of people congregated in a downtown park near a statue of Halifax's controversial founder, Edward Cornwallis, which some attendees later defaced with chalk.
Organizers said the event at Edward Cornwallis Park, which was put together in two days, put the experiences of black and Indigenous people, as well as people of colour at its centre in response to a women's march some criticized as catering to a narrow conception of women's unity.
Jade Byard Peek, a transgender woman of African-Nova Scotian and Mi'kmaq heritage, said she and others felt uncomfortable and under attack at last year's women's march.
When she shared her experiences with march organizers, she said she received "near death threats" and was called an "angry black man" on social media.
"There is a belief that we have equity, equality and that everything is all dandy, but even here in Halifax, that doesn't exist," Byard Peek told the crowd at the intersectional women's event.
"When I saw the women's march coming up, I had flashbacks to what happened last year, to what has happened throughout the whole year, of people being targeted online, on the streets, harassed, because they lived their true lives."
Rana Zaman, who helped organize the women's march, came to Cornwallis Park and apologized to Byard Peek for hurtful comments on the Grand Parade event's Facebook page.
Zaman said the women's march was meant to be inclusive rather than divisive, and said other community members have been harassed online for their views by what she described as transgender advocates.
Byard Peek said in an interview that the women's march needed to not only be inclusive, but intersectional -- a concept that considers how aspects of identity like race, sexual orientation, class and gender interact to form people's experiences.
She said she did not see the two events as being at odds with each other, but rather opportunities for education, which she felt was demonstrated by the crossover of attendees.
"We're all in this together. It's about equity," she said. "Together, we have shown that hate is not tolerated in this city and we want to come with love."