My sisters, brothers, friends and allies,
Tonight, on this eleventh International Transgender Day of Remembrance, we come together once again to honor those who lost their lives to anti-transgender hatred or prejudice. Our annual Day of Remembrance was founded by Gwendolyn Smith in 1998 and is observed each November 20 in communities around the world today. Attorney and advocate Lisa Gilinger has called this tradition our holy day in the trans community.
Thank you for joining us this evening, for sharing your sorrow, your grief, your fear, your outrage and your support.
I am especially grateful to the Gender Identity Center of Colorado for sponsoring this event and to the United Church of Christ for once again providing this beautiful sanctuary.
We trans people are a diverse community. For me, transgender or trans is a term of social identity in the most inclusive context: masculine, feminine, nonconforming, crossdresser, bigender, dual gender, genderqueer, gender surfer, androgynous, transitioned, transsexual, pre-op, post-op, non-op, never-op -- we all transcend the bounds of our assigned birth sex. We are all subject to prejudice. We are all at risk. We are all honored here tonight.
We are also a community of diverse religious and spiritual beliefs. Many of us find comfort in traditional religious liturgy and ceremony. Others, I know, are haunted by painful memories of religious intolerance in churches, and I deeply appreciate that you have put those memories aside to be with us here. Tonight we gather across all of our differences, creating this safe space to memorialize our fallen sisters and brothers and embrace each other. From the bottom of my heart, thank you for being here.
Community advocate Ethan St. Pierre reports on the Remembering Our Dead Web Project more than fourteen people murdered in the United States this past year out of hatred and intolerance of gender diversity.
In 2008, 18 killings were reported in the U.S., including our own Colorado sister, Angie Zapata. How many more are unnoticed, unreported, uninvestigated, unprosecuted, or unacknowledged as trans? We do not know. I only know that a single human life lost is one to many, and these are only the victims that we know of.
Globally, the numbers are far more grim. Ethan reports 163 victims so far this year worldwide, more than twice the total of 2008. Thirty-five of these are from Brazil alone. Their stories are heartbreaking and horrifying. Their deaths bring the worldwide total since 1970 to well over 500 lives lost to anti-trans violence. Please know that these are but the tip of the iceberg of victims-- the few whose stories are known to us.
I can find no solace in making sense of this assault on our lives. I cannot understand the forces of hatred, ignorance and intolerance behind the killing.
Earlier this month, President Obama said this of the senseless murders of servicewomen and men at Fort Hood:
"It may be hard to comprehend the twisted logic that led to this tragedy. But this much we do know - no faith justifies these murderous and craven acts; no just and loving God looks upon them with favor."
It is no different for us or for our fallen brothers and sisters. Perhaps we will never comprehend why they were taken from us, but we can gather as a community to remember them, to honor them, to mourn their loss.
I ask that we also remember and honor our sisters and brothers lost to suicide. Some instruments of death are easy to recognize: the blade of a knife, the barrel of a gun, the clench of a fist. But there are other weapons, far more subtle, but no less deadly. To inflict undeserved shame and guilt upon someone already at risk from undeserved shame and guilt is to disregard, to discard, a human life. We have lost far too many wonderful people, who were shamed to death because their gender identities or expression differed from the demands of others.
Here in Denver we are fortunate to have artist and author Dylan Scholinski, founder of the Sent(a)Mental Project, a memorial to GLBTIQA suicides. He invites submissions of pictures, art, stories and creative works by all whose lives have been touched by suicide in our communities.
In the midst of tragedy, this year has brought signs of hope as well. Less than a month ago, President Obama signed into law the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act. I acknowledge that there is diversity of opinion within our communities on hate crimes laws and enhanced penalties, however this law is historically groundbreaking in two ways: it is specifically inclusive of actual or perceived gender identity as well as sexual orientation, and it requires the Federal Bureau of Investigation to track statistics on hate crimes against transgender people. For the first time in history, the US Government has recognized that our lives matter enough to be counted. Words cannot express my gratitude to Judy and Dennis Shepard and the Matthew Shepard Foundation for their steadfast insistence of trans-inclusion in this bill.
Here in Colorado, a bias motivated crime law was ammended in 2005 to be specifically inclusive of transgender people. Earlier this year, this law was successfully applied in the prosecution of Angie Zapata's murder. Miss Zapata, a beautiful and loving young transwoman was brutally murdered in her home in Greeley just before her 19th birthday last year. Weld County District Attorney Ken Buck noted in a Denver Post editorial,
"The defendant's conviction on the bias-motivated crime sends a message to the community at large that this type of crime should not and will not be tolerated in our society. Every human being, whether they are like us or not, is of infinite worth"
Nothing can bring back our young sister, Angie, or erase the horror suffered by her family. However, I extend my deepest appreciation to District Attorney Buck, Deputy DA Brandi Nieto, Chief Deputy DA Robb Miller, and Greeley Detective Greg Tharp for their tireless work in seeking justice for Angie's murder and respect for her dignity. Murders such as Angie's are more than crimes against individuals, they are acts of terrorism against all of us. The state of Colorado and especially Weld County have taken a stand that our lives matter, and I take comfort in that.
The past year brought increased awareness of the roles that poverty, unemployment and homelessness play in placing our people and especially our youth at risk of violence. I am encouraged by ongoing efforts toward a trans-inclusive Federal Employment Nondiscrimination Act. In Colorado, Senate Bill 200 was signed into law last year, including for the first time transgender status in prohibiting discrimination in employment, housing and public accommodation. The Colorado Civil Rights Commission has continued this work in 2009, to clarify antidiscrimination rules that implement this law. These efforts impact issues of violence and safety in addition to issues of fundamental human dignity and civil justice.
Finally, I am gratified that the world premier of the documentary film, Two Spirits, will be at the Starz Denver Film Festival tomorrow (November 21st) on the Auraria Campus. The screening is sponsored by the Matthew Shepard Foundation. Two Spirits tells the story of Fred, F.C., Martinez, a Cortez, Colorado youth who lived in the Navajo Two-Spirit or Nadleehi tradition. F.C. was savagely murdered in 2001 at only 16 years old.
"Why are people killed for being who they are?" asks F.C.'s loving mother, Pauline Mitchell, who is with us tonight. So ask we all.
Perhaps someday human beings who transcend the bounds of assigned birth sex will no longer be hated, hunted and murdered because we are different. Until then, I often feel defeated and helpless in the face of the prejudice behind these crimes. I feel anger and outrage at this violence against us. And I feel grief at such senseless waste of human life, of unique special people who lived their truth with nothing to be ashamed of. But tonight, I feel surrounded by community; I feel comforted by your presence.
Thank you for being here with us.
Thank you for being here for us.
Thank you for remembering those we have lost.
Washington Park United Church of Christ
November 20, 2009