White Ribbon sharing a too short Trans life story

Who: What Ribbon, with Bensimon Byrne and Narrative for strategy and creative; Westside Studio for production (directed by Angela Bird); School, AlterEgo and Fort York for post-production; OSO Audio for sound.

What: “Short Life Stories,” a new campaign in keeping with White Ribbon’s mission to end gender-based violence. This year, it’s a specific call-to-action to help transgender people, whose lives are often cut short by violence.

When & Where: The two-and-a-half minute film was released online to mark the start of Transgender Awareness Week (Nov. 13 to 19), and just ahead of the 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence—which includes the Dec. 6 anniversary marking the École Polytechnique massacre. While there’s no media buy, White Ribbon with supporting partners like Egale and Adidas are using cutdowns and a wide range of social assets on their owned channels, along with donated media, to generate awareness and drive people to the film.

Why: White Ribbon was started by men after the École Polytechnique massacre in 1989, with a mission to end gender-based violence, promote a healthier form of masculinity, challenge harmful behaviours, and make real change. Recent work with Bensimon Byrne (here and here) powerfully captured that mission.

But this year, White Ribbon wanted to talk about other issues that intersect with typical notions of gender-based violence. One of the most prominent has been transphobia, which has been on the rise in recent years.

“We’ve worked with White Ribbon for five years,” said Joseph Bonnici, chief creative officer at Bensimon Byrne. “Their focus has always been the elimination of gender-based violence, but this issue intersects with so many other problematic attitudes and behaviours when it comes to gender, specifically when it comes to transgender individuals.”

“In the past year, the 2SLGBTQI+ community has endured rising hate crimes, threats, and discrimination, particularly targeting transgender individuals,” said Humberto Carolo, White Ribbon’s CEO. “As a dedicated ally, White Ribbon has developed ‘Short Life Stories’ to honour the transgender communities and highlight the profound reality that the journey towards their authentic selves can be a long and emotional process.”

How: The key insight at the heart of the campaign is that many trans people feel like their life does not begin until they can be open about who they are and recognized by others—by getting their first government ID after transitioning, for example.

And while those are celebratory moments, too often they are followed by early death from violence, and heartbreak for those that love them.

The film is a fictionalized story—inspired by real events in the lives of trans people—about Vivian, who is just starting to live her life as a woman, and the joy and pain she experiences along the way. “That journey is what we really wanted to show,” said Bonnici.

At first, Vivian glows with her profound happiness, like a person set free after a lifetime of being trapped. While others, including her family, refuse to see her for who she is, Vivian finds enormous joy in her new life.

“It’s still a patriarchal society and so showing those expressions of everything from disdain to violence against the trans community was really, really important for us,” said Bonnici.

Soundtracked by a cover version of “Praise You,” (by Hannah Grace), the film builds to symbolic milestones, like the arrival of her passport as a woman, and a “Happy She / Her Day” celebration at a bar, complete with cake and dancing.

But that’s when the joy ends, with a man raging about the use of a public bathroom. The violence is not shown, but after the screen fades to black, an in memoriam line appears on screen—showing that the life Vivian wanted lasted only two years. The film ends with Vivian’s friends holding a candlelight vigil, and an on-screen call-to-action: “Help us end the rising tide of hate, violence, and transphobia.”

“With this film, we tried to show the joy that is possible within the transgender community. The joy that can come from acceptance. The joy that can come from allyship,” said Bonnici. “But often this acceptance is cruelly taken away and their basic human rights denied. The transgender community needs as much empathy and support as possible right now and that’s what we hope to create with this film.”

The data: A new study commissioned by White Ribbon and Angus Reid found 73% of Canadians believe transgender people face more violence and discrimination compared to cisgender people, and 80%of Canadians with a transgender loved one feel Canadians don’t understand the struggles and barriers transgender people face. 

And we quote:  “What I hope viewers will get out of this is a sense of celebration for trans people, for the whole, rich, multifaceted and vibrant community that it is,” said Kiara-Kumail, the actor who portrayed Vivian. “I imagine a world where we are not mourning the deaths of trans people, but celebrating their lives while they dance through the streets with all their unbridled and unapologetic joy.”

David Brown