SAN DIEGO – As the gay and lesbian community celebrates victories such as the repeal of "Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell," one group within the LGBT acronym continues to face unprecedented struggles. The transgender community is confronted with discrimination, hatred and violence at levels greater than many other marginalized groups, and hate-motivated murders of transgender people continue.
To memorialize those who have lost their lives due to anti-transgender hatred or prejudice, communities across the globe will participate in the Transgender Day of Remembrance (TDOR) on Sunday, Nov. 20. Events such as marches, vigils and discussions will take place in cities around the world, including events planned in San Diego.
History of Transgender Day of Remembrance
Transgender Day of Remembrance was created in 1999 to honor Rita Hester, who was murdered on Nov. 28, 1998. According to the TDOR website, Hester’s death was the catalyst for the Remembering Our Dead web project and a candlelight vigil in San Francisco in 1999.
Gwendolyn Ann Smith, creator of the Remembering Our Dead site, wrote that the idea for the web project came while discussing the murder of Rita Hester and others on a message board in the Transgender Community Forum on AOL.
“So many had forgotten some of the individuals we had lost in only the recent past and I felt that, by forgetting these individuals, we would be doomed to see their deaths repeated,” Smith wrote. “We have lost so many people in our community to the hand of hatred and prejudice, yet we still are not seemingly willing to fight back. Meanwhile, we die at the hands of a lover, of police, of medical practitioners, and even parents, while the news media calls us “freaks” — and worse.”
Smith’s site lists the names of hundreds of transgender individuals whose lives have been lost, some of them listed only as “Unknown.” The TDOR site notes that not every person represented during the day self-identifies as transgender, however each was a victim of violence based on bias against transgender people.
Since 1999, the idea for the remembrance has picked up traction and the website lists dozens of events happening this year in places across the United States, and Canada, as well as other countries such as Italy, Israel, Finland, India and China.
Discrimination, violence, murders continue
The New York Anti-Violence Project reported that Camila Guzman was found murdered in an apartment on East 100th Street in Harlem on Aug. 1, 2011.
Just last week, San Diego Gay & Lesbian News shared the news that a burned torso found in Detroit was identified as a transgender teen, Michelle Hilliard, who had gone missing weeks earlier.
The National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs released a report in 2010 that found that transgender women are disproportionately impacted by murder, accounting for 44% of gay and transgender murder victims that year.
Another study by the National Black Justice Coalition found that black transgender and gender non-conforming people face some of the highest levels of discrimination of all transgender people, saying that members of this group had an extremely high unemployment rate at 26%; 41% said they experienced homelessness at some point in their lives; 34% reported a household income of less than $10,000 per year; and were affected by HIV in devastating numbers.
"From education to employment and housing discrimination, from police brutality to health care disparities, black transgender people are suffering at extremely high rates due to bigotry and transphobia," said Sharon Lettman-Hicks, National Black Justice Coalition executive director.
Further, as the gay and lesbian community celebrates the repeal of the military’s DADT policy, many have overlooked the fact that transgender people are still barred from serving openly.
The military classifies a diagnosis of “gender identity disorder” as grounds for medical and mental health dismissal.
"[The repeal of DADT] is a non-event for the trans community," said June LaTrobe, a U.S. Air Force veteran to the Windy City Times. "[The repeal] is great. It's wonderful … but there is no direct benefit to individuals who are comfortable identifying as transgender."
Speaking out for the transgender community
While a number of organizations and groups work to advocate for rights and protections of transgender people, a number of high profile events have been organized this week.
A coalition of organizations and residents in Washington, D.C., gathered for a Transgender Day of Action on Thursday, Nov. 17, and hand-delivered a list of goals, demands and deadlines aimed at stemming the escalation of violent crimes against people in the capital region. The group met with a number of civic leaders, including the chief of the Metropolitan Police Department and the U.S. District Attorney for Washington, D.C.
A TDOR ceremony will be held in Washington, D.C., at 5 pm Sunday at the Metropolitan Community Church, 474 Ridge St. NW.
GetEQUAL, a nationwide advocacy group, has partnered with organizers in seven states to plan TDOR events, including a day of action, memorial service, march, vigil and “Die-In.”
The organization noted that while some progress has been made in the struggle for transgender equality, there is still much work to do.
“We were excited to work with folks across the country over the past few months to support Chaz Bono's participation in ‘Dancing With The Stars’ - giving network television attention to a transgender person and transgender issues,” said Jillian Weiss, chair of GetEQUAL’s board of directors. “We're thrilled with his success there, but are reminded each day of folks who suffer from much higher rates of unemployment, a much higher likelihood of encountering violent hate crimes, and much higher rates of school bullying and suicide.”
In Los Angeles, the “Come Together” town hall meeting will take place today from 6 to 8 pm at Jewel’s Catch One, 4067 W. Pico Blvd. The free event will discuss the importance of building coalitions within the transgender community, and feature presentations by transgender advocates and policymakers.
“This is the first ever national focus on transgender people of color,” said Kylar Broadus, founder of the Trans People of Color Coalition, a national organization dedicated to challenging racism and transphobia. “It is critical that we empower people to advocate for themselves as we build this movement.”
Edward SanFilippo, a transgender activist who attended San Diego State University and now lives in Pittsburgh, said that he believes the fight for equality gets overwhelmed and sidetracked by the some of the "big" issues.
“We lose sight of what it is we're really striving for - the ability to be equal under all laws and to live our lives like everyone else,” SanFilippo said.
“TDOR is a stark reminder that hundreds of members of one tiny community are being killed every year just for being themselves. Who knows how many more are killing themselves in despair, and how many LGB individuals face the same fates? For me personally, the DOR is a time to reflect: on the sacrifices made by all of my LGBT family; on the bravery of those transgender individuals killed for asserting their identities, on the reality that I too could face this ultimate violence, and finally, on what we as a community can do moving forward to make this a thing of the past.”
This week at University of California San Diego (UCSD), students and staff have observed Transgender Awareness Week. Campus community members were invited to participate in a number of events, including a screening of “Portland Street Blues,” a Hong Kong martial arts movie that features a female-to-male transgender main character.
The university will honor TDOR all day today, with a reverent space for reflection and learning at the UCSD LGBT Resource Center. At noon, a brown-bag discussion will be held regarding combating violence against the transgender community.
The San Diego FTMI Padraig Hall Chapter will host the 10th annual San Diego Transgender Day of Remembrance on Sunday, Nov. 20, at The Center, 3909 Centre St. in Hillcrest.
The event will include a silent march from The Center down University Avenue, followed by a program in The Center’s auditorium at 7 pm. The program will include a performance by Danielle LoPresit and Alicia Champion.
The San Diego FTMI Padraig Hall Chapter is a support group for FTMs, and other male-identified transgender people and those who love them. It was was founded in 2006 as one of the first local chapters of FTM International, which provides support meetings for FTMs and their families in cities throughout the world, spanning 18 countries and 23 years.
For more information about the San Diego event, contact The Center at (619) 692-2077.
In North County, a TDOR event will be hosted by the North County LGBTQ Resource Center (LGBTQRC) at Oceanside Civic Plaza, 300 N. Coast Highway. The event will begin at 6 pm by the reflecting pool, and include a candle-lit procession to the LGBTQRC.
Morgana Mlodoch, co-chair and communications director of the North County LGBTQRC told Gay San Diego that the decision to hold a TDOR event in North County was made after a number of residents said they wanted to participate but could not make it down to San Diego.
“We didn’t want to hold this as a competition to the San Diego event,” Mlodoch said. “We further felt that as more of these types of events are held, this will help increase public awareness of the lethal violence against transgender individuals.”
For more information about the North County event, contact Mlodoch at [email protected].
Courtney Ware, an ally to the LGBT community, says that she will participate in the TDOR event at The Center because she believes it is important to stand up for the rights of all people.
“Transgender Day of Remembrance is important to me as someone with friends in the transgender community,” Ware said. “I am sad for those we have lost, and vow to protect and educate so we don't lose anyone else to such horrible acts. I hope that the community will come together and support TDOR.”
The National Center for Transgender Equality (NCTE) is looking forward to a brighter future for transgender individuals. The organization said that this past week has been incredible for transgender people as a number of high profile meetings and events occurred.
NCTE said that on Tuesday, Secretary Shaun Donovan keynoted NCTE’s 8th Anniversary Awards Ceremony, becoming the first sitting Cabinet Secretary to address a transgender function.
On Wednesday, the day that Anderson Cooper aired a show on transgender kids, NCTE released a model school district policy with GLSEN that assists schools in creating transgender inclusive policies and procedures.
Also, Smith and NCTE visited the White House for a briefing on anti-transgender violence. A series of policy recommendations were shared with Obama administration officials on ending the epidemic of violence.
"Meeting with the White House at all, especially the week prior to Transgender Day of Remembrance, says a lot about the President's commitment to making America safer and better for transgender people," said Mara Keisling, executive director of NCTE.
For more information about TDOR, click HERE.
Left photos: Some of the transgender individuals who have been murdered this year. Top: Krissy Bates, Minnesota; Middle: Miss Nate Nate (or Née) Eugene Davis, Texas; Bottom: Tyra Trent, Maryland. Credit: Transgender Day of Remembrance.