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Transgender Lives Matter, Too

This past weekend I attended Transgender Day of Remembrance (TDOR) events in Sacramento and Stockton and participated in two web-based memorials. Each year I am moved to tears listening to the manner in which humans are subjected to violent murder based on their perceived gender identity. This year was no different except the list of dead went up from 29 human souls murdered last year to 119 human souls this year.

In Sacramento this past Saturday evening, nearly 200 people attended the service held at Trinity Cathedral. Speakers included Rev. Dr. Rosario Vargas, Minister, Metropolitan Community Church. He discussed how close to home the recent murder of Jorge Steven Lopez Mercado in Puerto Rico last week hit for him, since this 19 year old youth was murdered in Rev. Vargas’ hometown. We also listened as Dr. David Nylund, author and Associate Professor of Social Work, CSU Sacramento, spoke about his honor to be involved with our community, and as Mila Pavlin, Operations Manager, Transgender Law Center, spoke eloquently about the sanctity of every life and how President Obama signing the Matthew Shepard Act into law validates that sanctity.

On Sunday, my wife and I traveled to Stockton to take part in their first ever Transgender Day of Remembrance with approximately 120 others. We began with a memorial service at Central United Methodist Church where we listened to Rev. Elena Kelly share the story of Ariana Dibble, a transgender person who was beaten to death in Stockton in 2006. After Elena’s emotional talk we read the names of the dead and held a candle light vigil down Pacific Ave. that ended at the First Unitarian Universalist Church. There we held a celebration service and had the privilege of listening to a heartfelt speech by Alexis Rivera, Community Advocate, Transgender Law Center, given in both Spanish and English.

Here in Sacramento, we included the description of their murders as we read the 119 names of the dead. Each time I heard how a brother, sister, or gender-variant sibling of mine was strangled, stabbed, tortured, thrown from a moving vehicle, beaten, run over by a car, decapitated, raped, burned, dismembered, riddled with bullets and left dead or dying I knew a part of my soul and, indeed, a part of humanity, had died with them. I hugged each person as they came from the podium after having read names of the dead, mostly to steady myself as I listened to several of the dead being identified as trans folks who were activists, part of my own biography.

When the end of the list came and it was my turn to read the name of Ruby Molina, a 22-year old transgender woman whose naked body was pulled from the American River here in Sacramento in 2008. My knees were weak and my throat was parched. I rasped out Ruby’s name and manner of death, my voice faltering when the humiliation Ruby experienced at the end of her life washed over me. I closed my eyes and drew a deep breath allowing the strength of the compassion and love in that sanctuary to fill me as I began my final words: “We read aloud the names of the dead that we know while understanding that many more were murdered last year for the same reasons, but their deaths were erased. As we light a candle for each of the known lives taken from us over the past year we rekindle their spirits and invite them into our struggle. We use the strength of their spirits to continue the fight and pledge to never forget. We will never forget so that we may never have to read names again.”