Since 2009, March 31st has been recognized as International Transgender Day of Visibility, a day to celebrate and amplify trans voices. This year, APEX sat down with our training partner, Mariana Cortes of the Milkshake Sisters, for a Q&A about the importance of recognising this annual event, and what it takes to be a good ally.
Q: Can you tell us a little about yourself and the work that you do?
A: I go by she/her/they/them. I’m from Colombia, and have been here in Canada for over four years. I have been working in social services for the last four years and have been involved as an activist in human rights for the last seven years of my life. Right now I’m a social service work student as well.
Q: At APEX we know you as part of The Milkshake Sisters – what’s that project?
A: The Milkshake Sisters is a really cool project I developed with Kenneth from APEX and my peer Angel Glady. I met Angel through The 519, where we used to work on a Trans people of colour project, and at that time, about three years ago, we realised how many service providers were unaware and lacking information about what is to be trans and how to treat trans people. We developed this module with the support of Kenneth to educate service providers and business partners, employees, whoever is willing to learn and educate themselves about how to treat a trans person and understand our community a bit more.
Q: What does Trans Day of Visibility mean within the trans community?
A: I can’t say for the whole community because it‘s a pretty broad population, but for me it’s a day to make people understand that we exist; that we are humans who deserve respect, rights, support and access to education and housing, health, and to be able to build our lives. It’s a day to remember those ongoing challenges and to be visible, to show people that we are pretty average – you know, we go to work, we go to school, we sleep, we eat, we work out. I think a lot of people have this really stereotypical idea of what a trans person is, so it’s important to keep in mind that we are all human. We are diverse in different ways and we deserve respect like anyone else. And of course, as a population that has been historically marginalised we need special care and special support in order to level up and reach the same category as everyone else.
Q: What are some ways for individuals to be good allies?
A: I feel like being an ally is an ongoing process – you can’t just take a workshop one day and be an ally. A good way to become an ally, and be one ongoing, is to educate yourself – don’t wait for a trans person to educate you. There are plenty of resources online! Begin with just understanding the terminology, and then after you have done your research you might be able to ask a trans person if they are willing to explain something to you further. But, always keep in mind that not every trans person has to be willing to teach you.
Also always be mindful of the spaces where you’re going to ask questions – you don’t do that at an office Christmas party, you know? Be mindful of the space you’re in.
It’s also really important to be a defender – when a trans person is being vulnerable you need to stand up, you can’t just pretend it’s not happening. If you hear a co-worker being misgendered, don’t keep quiet! Be a good ally by correcting the person in a kind and educational way.
And if you have a business, hire trans people! Be open to know us and to get to know us a bit better
Q: How can organisations be good allies?
A: I strongly believe that, when they have the capacity, organisations need to create peer support or educational programs to create a path for trans people to be hired.
Integrate trans-friendly policies like gender neutral washrooms, pronoun training for employees, legal understanding or legal aid in the sense of understanding the difficulties that trans people have to deal with, especially concerning identity – legal identity and self-identification can be a bit challenging sometimes.
Create peer-led programs where you have a trans individual with specific skills and you can train them to be part of your organisation. I think that’s a great way to promote inclusion and be an agent of change. Just wearing the t-shirt for one day is kind of like not doing anything. I think it’s really important to create mid and long term plans that will actually make changes.
Q: Can you recommend any resources for people who want to learn more?
A; Honestly this sounds cliche but we all have access to a phone or computer- just google how to treat a trans person. If you want to be more specific, The 519 has pretty good resources here in Canada, they have a good website with a lot of terminology and programs. There are plenty of programs specific for trans people but as an ally I think just google it!
And then if at some point you still have doubts or some questions, you will be able to find a person when it’s appropriate – just don’t come expecting that they will give you a speech, you have to earn that.
Q: Where can we find you and your work?
A: If you want to follow us, my partner Angel and I have an Instagram account – it’s @themilkshakesisters, or you can contact us through APEX if you want to hire us for a workshop or to review a policy or give more information.If you’re interested in Mariana and Angel’s training, contact APEX PR’s managing partner Kenneth at firstname.lastname@example.org