Trans activist, refugee Norma Lize honoured for work with Vancouver's LGBT community

On Monday, when Vancouver activist and out-and-proud transgender woman Norma Lize receives an award for her work in the local LGBT community, it'll be the culmination of a long journey. 

"I never imagined that the day will come when I am recognized and honoured and just appreciated for the work that I was doing and for being who I am ... a visibly trans person," Lize told host Stephen Quinn on CBC's The Early Edition. 

Growing up in Lebanon, Lize, 27, always felt that there was something missing in her gender identity.

That changed when she met a trans person for the first time when she was 18. It planted a seed of an idea that Lize, too, might be transgender.

But the incident also brought up complicated feelings — and a lot of fear.

"[The trans woman] was rejected from the community. She was rejected from her family, from her society, and I didn't want to be rejected just like her," Lize said. 

The social stigma of being transgender or gay in Lebanon is very high, Lize said, with fewer legal protections.  

"Being born and raised in the Middle East and in Lebanon, [it] is not an easy thing, especially when it comes to gender and sexuality." 

Lize grew more comfortable in her own gender identity and started working with LGBT organizations in Lebanon — but she was still not fully out. 

"I was never out as a trans person in Lebanon," Lize said. "I kept my trans identity in the dark for a long time just to be able to be safe and to help my trans community."

Lize eventually applied for asylum in Canada and moved to Vancouver in 2018. 

She recalled the first time she walked down Davie Street in heels, wig and makeup.

"I looked around and was like, 'oh my God, this is not Halloween. I'm not the only person here. This is very normal. No one is looking at me,'" she said. "That's when I knew I was like 'OK I'm staying here.'"

Even her chosen name — Norma Lize — hearkens back to that feeling, and the fact "we are human beings just like everyone else."

As part of her life in Vancouver, Lize, who is fluent in English and French, has been connecting with transgender refugees moving to Vancouver and helping them navigate the bureaucratic network of government and non-profit organizations.

Monday's award — named after January Marie Lapuz, a transgender Filipina woman who was murdered in New Westminster eight years ago — recognizes Lize's involvement, commitment and leadership in the LGBT community.

It was presented by the non-profit LGBT organization Sher Vancouver, and was sponsored by DIVERSEcity Community Resources Society, a charity that works with newcomers. 

"I'm here to learn from the organizations here, from the nonprofit organizations and from the community. I'm here to learn and hopefully one day, I'd be able to share this back home [in Lebanon]."


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