Monica Roberts

Ten Years - 400 Dead... And Counting

Filed By Monica Roberts | November 22, 2008 2:30 PM | comments

Filed in: The Movement, Transgender & Intersex
Tags: hate crimes against LGBT people, memorial, Monica Roberts, TDOR, transgender issues

Thursday was the tenth anniversary of the Transgender Day of Remembrance. It's the day transgender people around the world pause and remember our fallen brothers and sisters along with our allies and friends.Thumbnail image for TransVictims.jpg

It was also a day of mixed emotions for me. One of the people we remembered at last night's ceremony at the LPTS was one of my friends.

Instead of lighting 30 candles on her birthday cake next month, we lit one candle for Nakhia 'Nikki' Williams at our TDOR ceremony held at the Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary's Caldwell Chapel. She unfortunately became one of the 30 transpeople killed this year due to the senseless anti-transgender violence directed at us

Boston Transgender Day of Remembrance.jpgSince the night ten years ago that Rita Hester's lifeless body was found in her Boston area apartment and outrage over the disrespectful way the gay and straight news media covered it triggered the first TDOR ceremony in 1999, we have read the names of 412 people over the last ten years of TDOR ceremonies according to the Remembering Our Dead web project site.

The 412 names listed are disproportionately transgender people of color, encompasses 38 states, 130 US cities and several nations. It also includes non-transgender people such as Nashville's Willie Houston and Barry Winchell, who was killed by a fellow soldier because he was dating transwoman Calpernia Addams.

This year's ceremony is a mixed bag of emotions for me. I'm angry about the continued loss of valuable lives. I'm saddened by the fact that one of my friends is on the list this year. I'm shocked but not surprised after reading the stats that we lost so many people.

But at the same time, I'm hopeful that with the increased media coverage of transgender people over the last year and a half combined with the upcoming change in presidential administration, we finally have the conditions in place to pass hate crimes and an inclusive ENDA.

They may be just laws to some of you, but for the transgender community they are literally life and death issues. They are symbols that we matter, our lives are respected and valued . It's also a reminder that when you read the 'We The People' in the Constitution's preamble, it also includes transgender Americans as well. .

The TDOR also ensures that how and why our fellow transpeople died never fades from our memories.

Leave a comment

We want to know your opinion on this issue! While arguing about an opinion or idea is encouraged, personal attacks will not be tolerated. Please be respectful of others.

The editorial team will delete a comment that is off-topic, abusive, exceptionally incoherent, includes a slur or is soliciting and/or advertising. Repeated violations of the policy will result in revocation of your user account. Please keep in mind that this is our online home; ill-mannered house guests will be shown the door.

Thanks for this post Monica. I was a bit apprehensive when I attended Nakhia's funeral. How would I be received by the African-American community? However I overcame my fears and was honored to attend. I did so because of a desire to honor and remember a sister in our Louisville trans-community.

Tomorrow at church I plan to offer a pray for all those in the transgender community who lost their lives in 2008 to trans-hatred.

Again, thanks Monica.

Renee Simousek | November 22, 2008 3:44 PM

Transgender Day of Remembrance 2008
Remembering my dead too.

On November 20th every year transgender people and their allies remember the souls who fell representing all of our rights to self expression and self determination.
The trans community is wide and varied, it is glorious spectrum of humanity, and represents the promise of human kind to be all that we are and all that we can be.
I remember our dead every November 20th, and realize what a brave and noble bunch we can all be just walking around or being in a room full of people.
The infighting, the internecine tribulations, all fall away.
The dead speak to us all, and their lives say remember me and the love I gave to the world and pass it forward.

That being said, I can't help but remember my dead.
The people, who during my transition and my life, made me the woman I am today.
My friend Michelle Angela Clarke, who we lost to cancer in 2003.
I can still see her face and hear her laugh.
She was a sister and friend, we were to transition together, but that was not to be.
Before she left us I did everything I could for her.
I visited her every day I could at her home and at the hospital.
I took a collection at the local transgender support group to have her name legally changed.
Michelle's greatest fear was being buried with a male name on her headstone.
The local community and the hospice care center generously donated funds and I ran the documents to
the courthouse. The judge called Michelle at home and on her deathbed Michelle became "legal".

It was a beautiful moment captured in my mind like a snapshot in time.
I flashback to her tears of joy, her smile tinged with the pain of chemotherapy, her body wasting away,
and in spite of that the sparkle in her eyes. The recognition that she would die a woman.
Five days later she died of adenogastric carcinoma, on October 30, 2003.
Every Halloween her memory is fresh in my mind and I whisper to the wind "I remember you Michelle and I love you."

I will never forget her and a year ago in Thailand after "making it over", surgery completed, I remembered her and her strength and her determination
to be the person she ran from all her life.
To face her fear, to face death, and to smile and say this is me. See me as I am. I am a woman.
I thanked her for giving me the courage to continue my struggle as I stood on that balcony and watched the City of Bangkok, Thailand below me as a new woman.

And that memory leads to another woman who was even more instrumental in my growth as a human being and as a woman.
I met her in October of 1984 here in Madison, WI. I had no idea at the time this woman would be my wife and the focus of my life for over two decades.
I fell in love with her instantly, and in a move of brazen infatuation I hopped over the booth she was sitting in and said to her "Who are you? You're cute!"
Eventually after several weeks of seeing her we started seeing each other and two years later started living together.

I thought in my mind that she was the cure to my unsatiable longing.
When in actually she lead me to the cure, she lead me to myself.
She taught me how to love myself and to love others.

After eight and a half years together we married in sunny Jamaica.
One of the happiest days of my life.
That sun drenched day in February 1993 under the palms when she looked into my eyes and my eyes met hers.
My heart felt her love and I realized that if there is a heaven this is what it would be like, it would be pure love.
Love like we mere mortals can only postulate in our hearts and rarely find in this world.
We were soul mates and most importantly of all we were friends.
That friendship would be tested over the years, but our friendship would persevere.

Eight years later, in 2001, I told her I was transgender. It was one of the hardest things I would ever do, but more difficult trials came later.
She tried to understand my needs and in hindsight I might have pushed it a bit with her as I tried to understand myself.
But she never gave up on me, because she knew I would never give up on her.
Her friendship, compassion, and counsel were instrumental in my eventual success transitioning.

In January 2003 she was diagnosed with Uterine cancer. We were both terrified, but we fought it together.
Eventually after surgery and radiation treatment she was in remission and I started my medical transition in June of 2003.
In August I told her I needed to fully transition, she pondered this and we discussed it as friends and we knew the marriage wouldn't last.
We decided to live separately and in September 2004 she moved to her own place.
It was one of the saddest days in my memory.
The woman I wanted to grow old with would no longer live under the same roof as I.
I had a hard time dealing with that at the time.

After she moved out we rekindled our friendship on more neutral ground and mutually decided to get a divorce in November 2005.
We knew we would only get in each others way
and I knew her family wouldn't respect who I am and I didn't want her to face having to chose between me and her family.
In simplest terms, we divorced each other because we cared for each other.
Another really sad day for both of us.
We smoked cigarettes and cried on the courthouse steps before parting ways as two single women.
As we attempted to live out our lives separately we realized how close we really were and our friendship evolved into something we couldn't define,
but we both cherished.

In January 2007 she was diagnosed with cancer again.
We fought it together and I did what I could for her.
I nearly cancelled my surgery, but she advised against it.
So, I went to Bangkok scared of my surgical outcome and worried about her.
My surgery went fine and she congradulated me and was very happy for me.
I was so glad she was still my friend and I went back to her aid while healing myself.

Many a day in the hospital, many a paniced phone call, many tears later, and after a sixteen month struggle she died on May 31, 2008.
The last words she heard were from me, "I love you and I'll see you in the morning".
It was last time I could speak to her directly.
The next morning I kissed her cold lips for the last time and said goodbye.
A very sad day. I can never forget.

She was 45 years old and left all who loved her wondering why such a sweet and caring woman had to die so needlessly.
It broke my heart all over again and in new places.
This day of remembrance I remember Connie Jean Johnson, my soul mate, my friend and my inspiration in so many ways.
And I whisper to the wind everyday "I remember you CJ and I love you."
The pain of her passing will never fade, I just find new ways to deal with it and try to move on.
She would want me to do that and so I do.

So on this day of remembrance I remember all those who fell in the face of hate and intolerance.
Transgender people of color, the handicapped, the addicted, the unwanted and those unable to defend themselves. I remember and honor you.

I also remember those who fell by their own hand after succumbing to the difficult world that faced them every day.
Who felt they had no options left but to leave this world that didn't want them and had little strength to fight back and live.
Those who had nothing and no one but themselves. I remember and honor you.

Suicide was nearly my fate on several occasions, but everyday I remember two woman who formed my being and made me who I am.
Who gave me the reason to live. And so I live today, and I live for today.

My sister Michelle and my dear soul mate CJ I miss you both and I'll never forget you.
I miss you everyday and you are always in my heart, always...

-Renee Simousek

Renee, thank you for this beautiful and moving post. Your love for yourself and for your friend Michelle and partner CJ are palpable. May your love be a shining beacon that leads all of us to stop the hate that harms so many.

Monica, good post. I'm sorry to hear about your friend.

Brynn Craffey Brynn Craffey | November 22, 2008 8:35 PM

Monica, I am so sorry to hear that one of your friends was killed.

Each year, the TDOR becomes a bit harder for me as more names are added to the list.

Heartfelt condolences to you.

Michael Crawford Michael Crawford | November 22, 2008 10:46 PM

Monica, this is a powerful post that shows how important it is that we take more effective steps to end violence against transgender people.

I've been blessed that it has taken this long for someone I personally know to be memorialized on this list.

I know all too well the 1 in 12 stat, and if it hadn't been for some quick thinking one night I may have been entered on that RoD list myself.

I've been blessed that it has taken this long for someone I personally know to be memorialized on this list.

And that is the worst sentence on the entire page... "Taken this long" makes me feel like crying; no one should have to feel that a violent death is just a matter of time for someone they love.

And yet, Bil, that's how we *all* feel.

Monica: I now can say that I was a friend to two persons on the list. To me, we have terrorists in our own country that are worse than some external threat, and we must address this issue.

Renee: A heartbreakingly moving story. Thank you for sharing it with us.

Thank you for this beautiful post. I am reminded on how I felt when I got the word that my friend, Terrieann Summers was killed in Jacksonville, Dec 2001. The longer we spend time in this community and make hundreds of friends all over the country, the more likely we will have a friend on this list. My prayers go out to you, and out to our friend, Ethan St. Pierre. As we both know, he has an Aunt on the list. And, my prayers also go out to Renee Simousek on her lost.