Christin Milloy:

Rise up and seize equality

Proud Life: Kyle Scanlon

NOTE: This was published in XTRA Toronto (with minor edits) on Friday, July 20th 2012, along with a lovely photo of Kyle Scanlon.

The community said goodbye to celebrated activist and community leader Kyle Scanlon in a touching public memorial Thursday, July 19th. Kyle took his own life on July 3rd.

“Kyle changed people’s lives,” said Morgan Page. The event, which Morgan helped organize, was held in Cawthra park at the 519 Community Centre. Dozens of people gathered to grieve, share stories, and listen to heartfelt speeches by Kyle’s closest friends and colleagues.

“The community is mourning for one of its best activists, advocates, and friends,” Athena Brown said to the crowd. The ceremony included a candlelight vigil, as the crowd joined together to sing songs including one by Indigo Girls, Kyle’s favourite band.

A fixture at the 519 for a decade, Kyle worked most recently as the Research, Education, and Training Consultant. Previously, he served as the Trans Community Services Coordinator. In both roles, he was instrumental in creating programs and services which profoundly benefit the trans community.

It was critically important to Kyle that trans people always have a place to find support. In 2000, he took over facilitating the 519’s FTM support group when its previous facilitators were unable to continue. Rupert Raj remembers. “He was like a guardian angel… he was a beacon of hope. He made time for people, he went the extra mile and beyond.”

Another subject very near to Kyle’s heart was the prevention of suicide and depression in the LGBT community. In 2001, He made Canadian queer history as the first trans man ever to serve as Executive Director of a queer agency: the LGBT Youth Line. In fact, Kyle himself was responsible for adding the “T” to the “LGB” in the agency’s name, to ensure that young trans youth could rely on the Youth Line to listen and provide critical emotional support in times of need. A statement on Youth Line’s website reads “we will remember Kyle as a warm and generous human being, and a role model to all of us.”

As leader of 519’s Trans Access Project (established in 2001), Kyle taught local trans people important job skills, then worked with them through Project Open Door to facilitate training workshops for Toronto service providers. To date, the team has trained more than 8000 service providers, and set up trans-access policies at 25 shelters. Due to Kyle’s work, trans people now have greater access to desperately needed services such as shelter, addictions services, counselling, health care, and refugee settlement services.

“He always made it very easy (for providers) to be inclusive,” says Stefonknee Wolscht, a colleague in Trans Access Project. Kyle shared with her his secret for getting the general public to understand trans issues. “He was always diplomatic… He taught me that if you go gently (as opposed to) like a bull in a china shop… you will be able to get them to appreciate your vantage point more easily.”

Before the 519, Kyle was a staff member at Pink Triangle Press (publishers of XTRA, fab, and Tera Mallette, a former XTRA co-worker of Kyle’s, says he was always patient, soft-spoken and friendly; even when they didn’t see eye to eye. “We didn’t always agree, (but) we could always have a very cogent, articulate conversation about whatever we were disagreeing about.” Tera echoes an oft-shared sentiment about Kyle, that he was known for his open heart and friendly disposition. “He always had a smile on hand,” she says.

In 2004, he was instrumental in founding Trans PULSE project. Through community engagement, Trans PULSE has produced critical research data which demonstrates the need (and therefore, helps secure funding) for accessible health care services across the province.

In 2011, Trans PULSE reported statistical findings that 77% of Ontario trans people have considered suicide, with 43% having actually attempted it. That work, to which Kyle heavily contributed, will lead to more help for trans people battling depression, the same force which tragically claimed Kyle’s life.

Kyle’s gentle and caring nature was also reflected in his affection for animals. At his memorial, screens played through dozens of photos of a smiling Kyle petting animals in exotic locales worldwide; he was also known for his love of travel. At home, Kyle cared very deeply for pet companion cats, the last of which passed away shortly before his death.

Kyle is survived by his father, a brother, close friends, and a community which is better for his having been a part of it.

One Comment

  1. Monday, 2012.07.30 at 08:22

    Thats really sad as he was an amazing person – I’ve never understood people who do this, The big mystery is if people are in a dark place, the least anyone needs to do is just tell someone – and they can get help. Mind you it takes a lot to get this help. I was in a dark place once, and upon visiting a doctor, my immediate diagnosis and recovery from depression was just finding out I had a simple vitamin imbalance and viola I felt brand new.

    On a different note, as I don’t know how he died, one term from the ministry that I would like to see revised is how medical examiners use the term “suicide/overdose/accidental suicide.” Its sad to hear anyone who died from a drug overdose, to find out it was an ‘accident’. Overdose and death can simply result in taking 3 pills instead of 2 vs 30 pills. They have the same definition which to me I find offensive.

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Christin Milloy