"Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it" - George Santayana
Today is Transgender Day of Remembrance, set aside to honor those who were murdered because of bias and hatred toward transgender women and men.
In November 1998, Rita Hester, a highly visible member and advocate of Boston's transgender community, was stabbed 20 times in her apartment. She died of cardiac arrest within moments of being admitted to a hospital.
Sunday, Nov. 28, marks the 12th anniversary of her death. Nobody has been arrested in connection with Hester’s slaying.
Although the killing of Hester was not the first anti-transgender murder, it caught the attention of Gwendolyn Ann Smith, a transgender woman, advocate and writer.
In a San Francisco Chronicle profile about Smith, she recalls how Hester’s murder seemed tragically similar to the recent slayings of two other transgender women -- Debra Forte and Chanelle Pickett; however, Smith was shocked to learn that no one else had heard of the other two murders.
"From that night on, I began to look for all the people we have forgotten, bearing in mind the George Santayana quote: 'Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it,' " Smith said. "I want to make sure we remember."
Smith created the “Remember Our Dead” website and began tracking the deaths of victims of anti-transgender killings.
The most recent victim Smith added to her list was a transgender woman from Italy, identified only as Brenda. She was found in Rome burned to death on Nov. 9, 2010.
Earlier this year, she also added one of the youngest victims to her list – 16-month-old Roy Antonio Jones III from Southhampton, N.Y. On Aug. 1, 2010, police said Pedro Jones repeatedly punched and grabbed the infant by the neck because, by his own confession, he was “trying to make him act like a boy instead of a little girl.”
Smith’s focus is not solely to make these murders known to the public but also to honor the victims by calling for a Transgender Day of Remembrance.
According to the San Francisco Chronicle, the first remembrance event in 1999 took place outside the Castro Theater. A group of 25 people gathered in the rain holding candles to commemorate not only Hester, but also all the transgender people lost to violence and hatred.
This year, thousands of people will gather in hundreds of cities nationwide and in dozens of countries from Canada to Australia.
Those who gather will do so to draw attention to the growing problem of hate crimes against transgender people and to share stories from among the community of diversity and resilience in the face of persecution.
Many LGBT community centers, law groups and advocacy groups such as the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) have answered Smith’s call for remembrance and help organize annual events on Saturday, Nov. 20, as well as provide resources and support for transgender people.
The HRC put together this short clip on Transgender Day of Remembrance:
These events, which often consist of town hall “teach-ins,” exhibits and candlelight vigils, make anti-transgender violence visible. Find the nearest event closest to you.
San Diego’s ninth annual Transgender Day of Remembrance
The Center has organized a silent march that will conclude with a video presentation, a reading of murder victim names, and speeches from San Diego City Councilmember Todd Gloria and keynote speaker, transgender activist Kelly Moyer.
Light refreshments will be served.
The march begins at 6 p.m. at The Center on Saturday, Nov. 20. Event coordinator Connor Maddocks tells San Diego Gay & Lesbian News that there will signs and candles available, but participants are encouraged to bring their own as well.
Maddocks has organized the past six Transgender Day of Remembrance events for San Diego, and calls it “one of the saddest, but most important events.”
“As more and more transgender people proudly come out to be who they are, more people become the target of anti transgender violence,” Maddocks said. “It is very rewarding for me to bring awareness through this event to as many people as we can that this hatred exists.”
“If by this event, one tragedy can be averted, it would be a success,” Maddocks said. “When people connect with a name of someone who was murdered, it makes it personal and when things are personal people tend to step up more as an ally.”
Connecting the community with personal stories is a big component of the Transgender Day of Remembrance, which is why this year Moyer was chosen from among the many candidates and community activists.
Moyer, who in retrospect says there were many signs in her childhood and young-adulthood, openly acknowledged her gender identity at the age of 30.
“It’s a frightening thing to face, and I spent well over a year in therapy trying to convince myself I was wrong, before truly coming to terms with it,” Moyer said. “Once I did, I decided to begin a gradual process of physical transformation to bring my body more in line with my heart, mind and soul.”
At 32, Moyer began taking hormones and when she was 34 switched to living full time as herself - with a new name, new face, new clothes and more. She had the good fortune to be working at a large, progressive technology company headquartered in California’s Bay Area.
“I investigated their LGBT policies and resources prior to transitioning at work, and discovered that their non-discrimination policy already explicitly included ‘gender identity’ and their LGBT employee resource group was already trans-friendly,” she said.
Armed with resources, Moyer assembled a support team with participants from management, HR and the diversity department. They worked for several months with Moyer planning the logistics of her workplace transition, and synchronizing it with Moyer’s private life transition.
“Thanks to lots of planning, supportive management, good working relationships with my colleagues and acceptance and encouragement from numerous friends, my workplace transition went incredibly smoothly,” Moyer said. “Subsequently, I helped convince the company to add health insurance coverage for transition-related medical costs and created transition guidelines to facilitate workplace transitions for other trans employees.”
Unfortunately, her relationship with her parents took a different turn. Moyer’s relationship with them today is limited to e-mails, but she has hope that her parents will one day accept her for who she is.
Moyer’s first contact with the transgender community in San Diego - or the LGBT community as a whole - occurred at the Transgender Day of Remembrance in 2005.
Since then, she has either participated or led planning for multiple transgender community events, became a recurring Pride volunteer, became facilitator of the LGBT Center's transgender discussion groups for youth and adults, became a marriage equality activist with her partner, Tiffany; and participated in numerous panels at colleges, high schools, unions, hospitals and psychology programs.
“The vast majority of media coverage presents gender reassignment surgery as if it were some sort of ultimate crowning moment, where a person finally "becomes" a man or a woman, but nothing could be further from the truth,” Moyer said.
“I often point out in panels and presentations, a non-trans woman who has a radical bilateral mastectomy is still a woman, as is a woman who has a complete hysterectomy,” she said. “A man who loses both testicles to cancer is still a man. They may feel incomplete, but removing those body parts doesn't change who they are or invalidate their gender.
“By the same token, surgery doesn't make a trans person a man or a woman, because the heart of gender is not tied to any particular reproductive organ, but rather to the very essence of who we are. Physical changes - whether achieved through hormones, surgery or other means - are not about changing who you are, but rather about reducing the disparity between who you are and how your body is shaped.”
Moyer hopes that her speech at this year's Day of Remembrance will get people thinking about anti-trans violence in broader terms.
“With the highly publicized suicides of anti-LGBT bullying victims this year, I feel that we need to start confronting the shockingly high suicide rates among both the transgender community and the broader LGBT community,” Moyer said. “Violence doesn't always happen at the end of a fist or a gun, and we must acknowledge the power that words can have - both used against us by others and sometimes used by us against others - if we are to reduce the tide of suicides.”
“Although luckily we do not have a lot of incidents here in San Diego, the potential exists,” Maddocks said. “Making folks aware might create a larger sense of community for all of us to step up and help each other. Though there are so many different parts to our large community, the bottom line is we are all human beings who deserve respect and dignity, if we can raise that awareness for our transgender brothers and sisters everyone will benefit.”
Councilmember Gloria, who for many years has participated in Transgender Day of Remembrance events, agrees with the importance of raising awareness.
"It is critical for both the LGBT community and the entire San Diego community to remember and honor those killed due to anti-transgender hatred and prejudice. The best avenues to end hatred both within and outside of our community are through education and information, so the annual event is an opportunity to bring this very dark topic to light," Gloria said.
"The biggest hurdle that transgender people face is prejudice from neighbors based on a lack of familiarity and understanding," Gloria said. "Sharing their stories and accepting all people for who they are will result in a stronger community for us all."
Gloria has also shown his support by organizing a transgender employment summit with the San Diego Workforce Partnership. The purpose of the event was to help both transgender job seekers and employees and employers to understand the unique issues impacting the transgender community in the workforce, especially enriching cultural competency.
Additional information about the event and transgender resources are available on The Center’s website.
The North County LGBT Coalition, in collaboration with Gender Journeys, will also honor the anti-transgender crime victims with candlelight vigil in Oceanside.
The vigil begins at 6 p.m. at Oceanside City Plaza on 300 N. Coast Highway.
Speakers will include Morgana Mlodoch, Danielle McDonough, Stephie Bench, Brenda Watson and Nicole Murray-Ramirez. Music from Sharla Shore and a reception will take place between 7 and 8 p.m. More information is available here.
Transgender Day of Remembrance events in California
If you are not from California, find the nearest event closest to you on Smith’s Transgender Day of Remembrance website.
Saturday, Nov. 20, at 5 p.m.
Wesley United Methodist Church (In the John Wesley Hall)
1343 E. Barstow Ave. (at Fourth)
For more information see www.Trans-e-motion.org or call (559) 255-4075.
Jewish Transgender Day of Remembrance co-hosted by JQ International’s Trans Inclusion Committee
Friday, Nov. 19. at 7:30 p.m. (Community Ceremony)
Beth Chayim Chadashim
6000 W. Pico Blvd.
$10 dinner begins at 7 p.m. (RSVP@JQInternational.org)
More information is available here.
Friday, Nov. 19, at 6 pm
Bixby Park, 130 Cherry Ave., Long Beach, CA 90803
Friday, Nov 19, Preservation Park,
Doors will open at 7 p.m., ceremony from 7:30 to 9:30 p.m.
Contact: Tiffany Woods (510) 713-6690 Ext. 6121 for more information or visit: http://transvisiontricity.org/events.html
Saturday, Nov. 20
University of California, Riverside
Outside of the Highlander Union Building
For more information, contact the LGBTRC (245 Costo Hall)
Saturday, Nov. 20, at 6:30 p.m.
Trinity Episcopal Cathedral
2620 Capital Ave., Sacramento, CA. 95816
Saturday, Nov. 20, from 6 to 8:00 p.m.
The Diversity Center of Santa Cruz
1117 Soquel Ave., Santa Cruz CA 95062
Contact Tara for more information/accessibility concerns: email@example.com
San Luis Obispo
Saturday, Nov. 20, at 5 p.m.
Location to be announced (probably Mitchell Park)
Sunday, Nov. 21, at 7 p.m.
Stribley Community Center Gymnasium
1760 E. Sonora St.
Stockton, CA 95205
For directions or for more information, contact Elena Kelly at (209) 649-0396, or firstname.lastname@example.org
Saturday, Nov. 20, 1:30 to 4 p.m.
West Hollywood City Hall
8300 Santa Monica Blvd., West Hollywood, CA 90069
Transgender people in their own words
The recently launched “I AM: Trans People Speak” campaign is a collection of recorded stories that aims to challenge stereotypes and misconceptions of transgender individuals by highlighting the realities of their various experiences.
These voices span across a diversity of communities and intersecting identities. There is no one trans narrative. Each of these individuals has their own unique story to tell, and they no longer want to be silenced.
Similar to the “It Gets Better Project” the community at large is invited to share their own personal story through a video, audio, or written message. Share your story here.
Transgender people in the media
Media coverage of transgender issues tends to focus mostly on the murdered, but in recent years, mainstream media has also begun to share personal stories.
Last year, “20/20” featured this profile titled A Better World for Transgender Children:
There was also this story from ABC which featured the story of a transgender twin:
“Beautiful Daughters” is an original Logo documentary that looks at the lives of four transgender women intertwined with the casting, rehearsal and opening of a V-Day benefit production of Eve Ensler's "The Vagina Monologues."
The women confront and discuss the issues they face as transgender women and how "The Vagina Monologues" is used as a vehicle to address these issues to a mass audience.
Part of Logo's Real Momentum documentary series, the documentary is available for viewing online.
Ten things every American ought to know
HRC assembled a Transgender Visibility Guide which offers advice for individuals considering a transition, and offers suggestions on how to tell family, friends and co-workers.
In addition to helping transgender people be open with themselves, the guide also offers the following facts:
1) Nearly 65 percent of the Fortune 100 — the country’s most profitable businesses — offer non-discrimination policies that cover gender identity. More and more companies add these protections every year. (HRC, 2010)
2) Meanwhile, 26 percent of transgender workers report losing their job because of their gender identity and 97 percent report other negative experiences in the workplace (from verbal harassment to assault). (National Gay and Lesbian Task Force/National Center for Transgender Equality, 2009)
3)In 2009, gender identity was added to federal hate crimes law, explicitly protecting transgender people under federal civil rights law for the first time.
Hate crimes against LGBT Americans, however, continue to be a significant problem and efforts to end hate crimes must continue.
4) Military regulations deny transgender Americans the right to serve openly, and transgender veterans face significant discrimination in the Veterans Administration medical system. (Transgender American Veterans Association/Palm Center study, August 2008)
5) In the majority of states, it is still legal to fire someone from his or her job simply for being transgender.
6) While challenges exist, there are many transgender and transgender-friendly faith leaders and communities throughout the United States and beyond.
7) Throughout history and across cultures, people have expressed themselves in ways that we might consider transgender. Some Native American cultures identify “two-spirited” people as a revered class.
8) According to some estimates, 0.25 to 1 percent of the U.S. population is transsexual. But the actual percentage of those who identify under the broader transgender identity is thought to be much higher.
9)More than 75 percent of American voters believe it should be illegal to fire someone just because they are transgender.
(Human Rights Campaign/Hart Research poll, 2005)
10) Transgender non-discrimination protections in colleges and universities are on the rise, with more and more focus on full protection among institutions of higher learning for students, faculty and staff, including all eight Ivy League institutions.
Many colleges and universities now offer gender-neutral housing options for students living on campus.
Transgender facts and myths
By no means a comprehensive list, these facts and myths from HRC’s Transgender Visibility Guide offer an inside glimpse to the misconceptions transgender people encounter on a daily basis.
Myth: Transgender people are really gay.
Fact: Gender identity and sexual orientation are two different subjects. Some transgender people are lesbian, gay or bisexual in their sexual orientation, and some are straight.
Myth: Transgender people cannot have families.
Fact: Whether they come out before a relationship or while in one, countless transgender people find love and happiness in their lives. In fact, most transgender people will tell you that after coming out, they feel a new sense of wholeness and happiness that makes them a better partner and parent.
Myth: Transgender people can be cured.
Fact: There is no “cure” for transgender people, although some do try to repress it. The most reputable medical and psychotherapeutic groups say you should not try to keep from expressing your true gender identity. Instead, they say to focus on ways to come to an understanding of yourself and share your life openly with those you love.
Myth: All transgender people have surgery.
Fact: Many transgender people have no desire to pursue surgeries or medical intervention. At the same time, many transgender people cannot afford medical treatment or have no access to it. Considering these truths, it is important that civil rights are afforded to all transgender people equally, regardless of their medical histories.
Myth: There are more male-to-female transgender people than female-to-male transgender people.
Fact: There are no reputable statistics on how many transgender people there are in the world, nor on how many people identify as male-to-female or female-to-male. But even the best estimates show there are more or less equal numbers of MTF and FTM transgender people.