Every International Women’s Day (March 8) is an opportunity to recognize the lives and contributions of Black women of trans experience worldwide: past and present. As the Canadian contributor to TransGriot, I’m taking this opportunity to spotlight three fine examples of Black Canadian Trans Women’s leadership.
Kelendria Nation is a Black woman of Trans experience based in Vancouver. Of Caribbean descent, she uses her perspective and unique experience to bring awareness to the various issues surrounding trans people, especially trans women of colour.
For the past four years, Kelendria has worked with Prism Services and The Trans Specialty Program: both based out of the Vancouver Coastal Health authority. There she assists with delivering Transgender Inclusion 101 workshops through the Prism Education Series. Prism is the health authority’s education, information, and referral service for lesbian, gay, bisexual, Trans, Two-spirit and queer + (LGBT2Q+) communities. Transgender Inclusion 101 focuses on developing skills to welcome and support trans and gender diverse individuals in a variety of social service and healthcare settings. The goal of the workshop is to increase safety and access to services for Trans and gender diverse individuals, in order to promote health and wellness.
Kelendria also works with the Trans Specialty Care Program assisting clients with navigating the health care system by providing them with primary care referrals, peer support, name or ID changes, and facilitation of education based support groups.
Also Vancouver-based, is performer, model and activist (and “full-fledged Sagittarius”) Anasteja Layne (aka That Siren Goddess’s Coco Nusse).
Anasteja’s community activism began when she was a high school student as a member of the first Gay Straight Alliance in Maple Ridge, a suburb east of Vancouver. She studied 10 disciplines of dance at Dance Academy and then went on to study fashion design in the world’s most elite school. Before graduating from dance, she entered the modelling world, working with many top designers from Louis Vuitton Moët Hennessy and beyond. Through these experiences, Anasteja had to opportunity to meet trans folk around the world. After witnessing the marginalization of the trans community various parts of the world, she gained a sense of mission to do what she could to try and uplift others in the community. She also realized that she wanted to transition.
In 2013, she started an all queer-femme burlesque group The Pearl Squad, inspired by 90’s hip hop and Space Jam. The group performed a ground breaking 12 minute stage piece launching the campaign #visibilitymatters.
By 2017, she had performed on seven national tours and appeared in three documentaries, one of which won accreditation from the International Queer Film Festival: Stay Gold, Man Up, produced by Ray McEachern. Anasteja has been on the cover of four magazines and appeared as a featured performance in Vancouver’s Pride Festival as well as at Vancouver’s staple venues and shows such as Man Up at The Cobalt, Junction, Celebrities, 1181, XYVR, Central Studios, East Side Studios, Vancouver Arts and Leisure, and more. That August, she opened Coconutz & Bananas, a club event dedicated to protecting and uplifting QPOC and trans talent. Other experience included collaborating with the team behind the Vancouver-produced trans-themed sitcom ‘The Switch’ which aired on OutTV in the summer of 2016. Nowadays, Anasteja is bringing her passion to yet another creative area that she loves: singing. She sums her life so far up this way: “Without a doubt, life has been a journey full of up and downs, but it is in creativity that I have find a voice and a platform.”
Monica Forrester has been working in various agencies to educate and make services accessible for the trans community in Toronto since 1999.
Since then, Monica has in a myriad of ways advocated for trans people in Toronto; from living and working on the streets to being instrumental in creating a drop-in and an outreach program for trans people at the 519 to working as a program coordinator for Maggie’s Toronto Sex Workers Action Project. She also advocated for trans women to be allowed into women’s shelters and in creating policies to prevent shelters from discriminating against trans women.
In 2004, Monica founded Trans Pride Toronto which, more recently, has been open through the pandemic doing outreach to are the most marginalized members community, including the homeless. Part of this outreach includes running a weekly (on Saturdays) online support group called Trans Talk TO Online (email: email@example.com). She also oversees a working partnership between Street Health® (run by Toronto’s Street Health Community Nursing Foundation) and the Bad Date Coalition which provides sex workers with a safe bad date reporting system.
Kelendria, Anasteja and Monica are but three of the many Black Trans Women in Canada living their lives, raising awareness and making valuable contributions to the uplift of our community north of the 49th parallel.
Vanessa Colantonio (she/her)
Vancouver, BC, Canada