A transgender Kenyan refugee is defiant in the face of accusations she’s being racist and “inherently violent,” for inviting the Canadian Armed Forces to a job fair aimed at helping transgender people find work.
“I am a trans woman of colour. I moved here with nothing,” said Biko Beauttah in defence of her decision. “I have all these systemic problems.”
Beauttah was born in Mombasa, Kenya. On Feb. 25, 2006, at the age of 26, she fled to Canada.
“It is not safe for me to live there as a trans person because I could be killed,” she said. “It’s illegal to be who I am in Kenya … I’m considered a criminal basically just by being me.”
Beauttah says she left her wealthy family in Africa and arrived in Canada with just $200 in her pocket. She spent her first six months at a refugee shelter in Toronto.
She has struggled to find work over the past 11 years, at points turning to the sex trade to pay her rent.
“The barriers all result from a society that is probably not educated, ignorant or just transphobic, and I don’t know why, but it’s a struggle for trans people.”
Now 37, she has organized a transgender job fair called Trans Workforce set for Monday, Nov. 20, at Toronto’s TIFF Bell Lightbox.
She calls it her way to “celebrate” Transgender Day of Remembrance, an international day to honour trans people who have died as a result of prejudice, discrimination and violence.
“I’m hoping to inspire some other trans people who maybe can see themselves at a low point in their life and realize that all you need is an idea and people to support you to change the world,” she said.
Transroots Toronto, a group that says it consists of trans people of colour, call Beauttah’s job fair an “affront” to the trans community and sent Beauttah an email calling on her to change or cancel her event.
“Given the ongoing history of military and police violence against trans people … having military or police present at an event specifically for trans people of colour is an inherently violent act,” Transroots founder Abuzar Chaudhary said in the email.
“The violence faced by trans community members today is a direct consequence of these military actions and the colonial state and society they created and continue to support, and it disproportionately targets our racialized community members. Therefore, having military recruiters at a Trans Day of Remembrance event is a racist act.”
Chaudhary, who established Transroots Toronto in 2015, is a Pakistani trans woman. She says Beauttah has failed to consult the wider trans community.
“[Members of the trans community] do have our differences and for Biko to do this on her own, I take difference with that,” Chaudhary said.
She also said Beauttah was “exploiting” the Trans Day of Remembrance, and wrote it was “extremely disrespectful” to hold it on the day of mourning.
“The people who are protesting the Canadian Armed Forces coming to Trans Workforce, what do they have to say about the American president and the American military situation with trans people?” said Beauttah. “Do they protest that and protest this at the same time? Like, you have to pick one, you can’t have it both ways.”
In a statement, Pride Toronto pledged support for Trans Workforce and pointed out that Beauttah is on Pride’s executive board.
“We believe that this is an excellent way to connect skilled and talented trans individuals with ally employers and good jobs, which is a win for everyone,” wrote Pride communication officer Ryan Connelly.
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