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Toronto’s Ryerson University launches scholarship for transgender students of colour

A Toronto university has launched a scholarship to help support racialized transgender students in honour of a young woman who died several years ago.

About 200 friends and family of Sumaya Dalmar have raised money and organized the Ryerson University scholarship, which will be given to its first recipient this fall.

Friends say Dalmar moved to Canada from Mogadishu, Somalia, and eventually settled in Toronto where she lived as a trans woman.

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They say she faced many of the same problems the LGBTQ community faces, including transphobia, Islamophobia and racism.

The $1,000 scholarship will be given to one student per year for five years.

Dalmar’s friend Lali Mohamed says he hopes the scholarship will grow in the future to help trans people of colour overcome barriers.

“I remember when she was transitioning she had a really difficult time finding employment cause individuals didn’t know what to do with her,” Mohamed said. “That’s tough for a lot of people, but she never allowed that to diminish her spirit.”

Dalmar was about to start a job in the education department with The 519, an LGBTQ community centre in Toronto’s gay village, Mohamed said.

The 26-year-old was found dead on Feb. 22, 2015 when police responded to a call in the city’s east end. Police said an autopsy was inconclusive and deemed her death not suspicious. Her friends believe otherwise.

That ambiguity left her family and friends angry, Mohamed said. So they decided to wait until the anger abated before launching the scholarship.

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“In the midst of grief and rage something beautiful has come out of this,” Mohamed said, calling his friend “fearless and fierce.”

“For a lot of trans people of colour there is a lot of shame and stigma. For her, she refused that. That was inspiring. She is exactly who she was meant to be.”

Ryerson sociology professor Alan Sears said the award will help students in a community that has been traditionally marginalized.

“I think the award will not only benefit individual trans students of colour, but will also focus attention on the contributions of racialized trans communities,” Sears said in a statement.

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