When Julie Berman came up to the open mic at the trans day of remembrance event on Nov. 20, 2017, she delivered a speech about transphobia in Toronto. She talked about a trans friend of hers that was murdered.
On Sunday, a little over two years later, the trans woman and activist was assaulted and murdered.
“It’s really heartbreaking ... the same thing that she was trying to be vocal about happened to her,” said Davina Hader, a friend of the victim and a member of The 519, an organization that advocates for the inclusion of LGBTQ communities’ members and provides services for them.
Ms. Berman had asked her friend, who was filming the vigil in 2017, not to release the clip online. “I have that still, and I was thinking about releasing [the video],” Ms. Hader said.
Toronto police said they found Ms. Berman on Sunday suffering from head injuries in a residence in Toronto’s Brunswick Avenue and Harbord Street area. She was transported to hospital and pronounced dead. Police have charged Colin Harnack, 29, of Toronto, with second-degree murder.
The suspect is not a known member of the LGBTQ community, according to Ms. Hader.
Through her activism, Ms. Berman was asking her community members to be more vigilant, Ms. Hader said. In the 2017 event, “She was talking about another close friend who had been murdered ... It’s very emotional.”
Ms. Berman used to be a hairdresser and was involved for almost three decades with community events at The 519. “She was struggling to survive as we all do,” Ms. Hader said. “It’s very unfortunate, very sad.”
According to a study published in 2015 by Trans PULSE project that is led by professors in different universities in Ontario, trans people are targets of specifically directed violence. The study states that 20 per cent of Ontario’s trans people had been physically or sexually assaulted for being trans and another 34 per cent had been verbally threatened or harassed but not assaulted.
The study noted that many trans people did not report these assaults to the police, but didn’t explain why. However, the same study said 24-per-cent reported having been harassed by police.
“I don’t know that [trans women] ever felt safe,” said Olivia Nuamah, the executive director of Pride Toronto, “For many in the trans community, sadly, violence is a part of life.”
In the past couple of years, there have been three violent deaths in Toronto’s trans community, Ms. Nuamah said. “Never mind what’s going on in North America more broadly.”
Among those fatalities in Toronto was the death of Alloura Wells, who died in June, 2017, but she was not reported missing until Nov. 6, 2017, and her body was not identified until Nov. 23 of that year.
Both Toronto Police Service and The 519 community centre in the Church-Wellesley Village were criticized for the way they handled communication in the case of Ms. Wells – a homeless, biracial transgender woman and, by extension, one of the city’s most vulnerable people.
Since then, Toronto Pride and The 519 have organized multiple events and workshops to provide education and support for the trans community members. Many other non-profit organizations are running support programs, anti-violence programs and counselling programs, Ms. Nuamah said.
“For sure they’re nowhere near enough and the result often is many within the trans community are left vulnerable,” Ms. Nuamah said.
The trans march that is organized during Toronto Pride celebrations in June is one of the largest in the world. “This city, and country, try to be welcoming to all members of LGBTQ2+ community,” Ms. Nuamah said. “Our people participate in our events precisely to show that they are a strong community and also to raise awareness.”
Ms. Nuamah considers the Sunday murder to be an alarming incident that should remind everyone about the high rates of violence the trans community experiences.
Ms. Berman was a lovely person who was committed to the political issues that are facing her community, Ms. Nuamah said. “She will be well missed.”