By Rebecca Riley
On Jan. 20, in recognition of the first anniversary of U.S. President Trump’s inauguration, between 6,000 and 8,000 demonstrators at the second annual Women’s March walked from Parliament Hill to the Bronson Centre.
“We are striving to create an event that centers the experiences of marginalized communities, especially folks impacted by racism, anti-black racism, colonialism, ableism and transmisogyny,” stated the website for the Women’s March Ottawa, in the lead-up to the event.. “It is intended to celebrate [the] diversity, inclusion and empowerment of ALL who are women!”
Tanya Ruiter, an internet content writer, shared that participating in the Women’s March last year helped her to feel empowered. “It was my first protest and I didn’t know what to expect. I was greeted warmly by everyone I met. Even though I was surrounded by thousands of women and men, I felt safe and understood and somehow as though I wasn’t completely overwhelmed.”
However, some have accused the march of excluding transgender and non-binary people.
KJ Forman, a queer non-binary activist studying social work at Carleton University, di
d not attend the march because of safety concerns. “I [didn’t] feel safe or comfortable attending as a trans person for various reasons – one of them being the amount of transphobia that’s been vocalized by folks planning on attending the march, another being the lack of a mandate put in place by the organizers to protect marginalized folks.”
At the Women’s March events worldwide last year, many people wore pink “pussy hats,” knitted in the shape of cat ears, as a reaction to President Trump’s comments in the Billy Bush tape leaked in October of 2016.
This year many participants of the march debated if the hats are appropriate because some argue that it excludes trans and non-binary people. On the Facebook event page for the Ottawa Women’s March, some people voiced concerns about the participation and safety of trans people, with some people asking if TERFs (trans-exclusionary radical feminists) would be allowed.
“We have been very clear that ANY individuals who support women’s rights AND human rights are welcome to march with us,” the organizers wrote in response to a comment on the Facebook event page. “This includes all individuals who identify as women or men, or neither, or both. We fully recognize the fact that the pussy hats are offensive to some people, and we have [stated] that in our info about the march. We also recognize that women are often criticized for what they do or do not wear – and we will not be telling women or anyone else for that matter what they can wear on this day.”
Forman said that despite understanding the organizers’ approach, they believe these issues should be further addressed in order to encourage the participation of gender non-conforming people. Prior to the event Forman noted, “I think it makes sense for the organizers to not ban the hats and I agree having a symbol that empowers and inspires marginalized groups is really important. I also think the organizers need to be aware that regardless of whether or not the hats are banned, the hats will absolutely cause trans and nonbinary people to not attend the march.”
This article first appeared in the Leveller Vol. 10, No. 4 (Jan/Feb 2018).