By Leah Cavanagh
As I’ve met more and more people within the social justice community, I’ve learned that when asked why they do what they do, most people respond with some version of “I’ve always been this way.” I’ve also learned that that is rarely true. I’ve learned that often there is an event, a feeling, or an experience that has so deeply affected some people that it has become of a part of their identity more than an external thing that happened to them.
When I asked Marni this question, she first replied with “I’ve always been drawn to help those who were marginalized or who didn’t have a voice.” In the very next breath she states, “I think it was because I really never felt comfortable with my own voice. I didn’t have the strength to stand up for myself, so standing up for others was like standing up for myself, you know?”
As a transgender woman, Marni has experienced stigma and discrimination from a number of directions. This discrimination, understandably, has impacted her view of the world and her place in it. It was not an inevitability that she would become an advocate for social justice issues. Rather, it is a testament to her incredible character that she channeled her own feelings of oppression into the energy required to fight for the rights of the most vulnerable in our society. This strength of character makes her a superhero.
However, Marni wasn’t able to tap into her superpower until she “found that strength that can only come from finally being able to love and accept yourself fully.” Finding the courage to stand up and say “No, this isn’t right, I won’t allow you to hurt me anymore” allowed her to become an even more effective advocate for those who, like her, “felt they didn’t have or couldn’t use their own voice.” Through her transition, Marni has claimed her full identity and become a relentless advocate for equality in our community.
Laverne Cox once said, “If you have a problem with people living their lives and being authentically who they are, you really should go and do some soul-searching,” but Marni won’t stop at just soul-searching—she wants social change. Marni has become an incredible advocate for transgender rights, LGBTQ equality, and equal access to healthcare.
When asked what her kryptonite is—the cause that gets her blood boiling the fastest—she says that “one fight for social justice and human rights is no more or less important than another” but, she adds, “what really drives my passion is when the most vulnerable experience injustice in society. In particular children and youth. When I hear of a child being hurt, abused in any way, discriminated against, who feel, and often are, powerless to fight back, I look at my own son and my heart breaks.”
To finish, Marni so beautifully states, “Every child deserves to simply be a child… whatever that means to them. The most vulnerable need others to stand up for them and with them.”
HIV Edmonton is proud to have nominated Marni Panas for an Edmonton YWCA Women of Distinction Award.