Excerpted from the Denver Transgender Day of Remembrance Observance, Jefferson Unitarian Church, Golden, Colorado, on November 20.
Tonight, we gather once again on this Twelfth International Transgender Day of Remembrance to honor those who lost their lives to hatred and violence. We remember, we mourn, those who were murdered this past year, because their gender identities or expression were judged to differ from stereotypes of their assigned birth sex. This annual Day of Remembrance was founded by Gwendolyn Smith in 1998 and is observed each November 20. Tonight, more than 200 communities around the world are joining us in observing this solemn anniversary.
I thank all of you for taking time to be with us this evening, so that we might share our support and love for each other, our grief for our dead, our terror at this violent onslaught, and yes, our outrage.
We are also gathered tonight to honor the living, to celebrate the tenacity and courage of all who have overcome barriers of intolerance to live authentic lives, to simply be ourselves in the face of such adversity and danger.
I use transgender or trans as a term of social identity in the most inclusive context: masculine, feminine, nonconforming, crossdresser, bigender, dual gender, genderqueer, gender surfer, androgynous, transitioned, transsexual and many more. All human beings possess a unique blend of the masculine, the feminine, or both or neither, and in my view all are equally valid and equally precious. I also acknowledge and respect those of our community who choose not to socially identify as transgender. However, regardless of physical characteristics or surgical status or class or privilege of passing, all of us who transcend the bounds of our assigned birth sex are subject to anti-trans prejudice. We are here tonight to honor all of us and our affirming families, friends and allies.
On the International Transgender Day of Remembrance web site, Mr. Ethan St. Pierre reports more than 30 thirty people murdered worldwide since last November 20 out of hatred of gender diversity. This is down from 163 reported last year, and that is cause for hope. However, these known tragedies are likely a tip of a much larger iceberg of murders that were not reported, investigated, prosecuted or recognized as trans-related. All except one of the victims this year, a toddler, were trans women or presenting as female at the time of their deaths-- our sisters died in Istanbul, Indonesia, the Dominican Republic, Honduras, Malaysia, Brazil, Italy, Mexico, Pakistan, Turkey, and Thailand. Many died in circumstances too horrific to describe here. We know from years past that transmen are at risk as well.
Each life lost is to anti-trans violence is a loss too many. Each is precious; each is irreplaceable.
Of these more than 30 lives, nearly half, 14, were taken in the United States and its territories, 6 in Puerto Rico alone. They died in San Francisco, New York, Charlotte, Milwaukee, Chicago, Philadelphia, Houston, and in small towns with names like Maplewood and Southampton. There occurred the most tragic and senseless loss, Roy Antonio Jones III of the Shinnecock Nation, just 16 months old. On August 1st, he was savagely beaten to death by his mother's boyfriend, who later said he was "trying to make him act like a boy instead of a little girl."
At a candlelight vigil in honor of Baby Roy, Shinnecock spiritual leaders spoke of the message brought by his short life, "We must put the unity back in our community and rekindle how our people once lived as one." Perhaps this was Baby Roy's message to our transcommunity as well.
Here in Colorado, anti-trans violence has taken a toll close to home and close to our hearts in recent years. In 2001, 16 year old Fred, F.C., Martinez, who lived in the Navajo Two-Spirit or Nadleehi tradition, was brutally murdered near home in Cortez. On July 17, 2008, Miss Angie Zapata was savagely murdered in her home in Greeley, just before her 19th birthday. To their families, we offer our our love, thoughts and prayers.
I also wish to remember our sisters, brothers and queer sibs lost to a different kind of violence, perhaps even more deadly. Each year, uncounted scores of trans, queer and gender variant youth and adults are lost to suicide, to the consequences of shame and guilt that were never, ever, deserved.
In recent weeks, we have seen unprecedented media coverage of GLBTQ teen suicides linked to societal intolerance and bullying. One of them was Chloe Lacey, a 19 year old transwoman in Eureka, California, who took her life in despair on September 24. How many of us were at risk when we were young, alone, ashamed or hopeless that we could ever fit in to our own skin, let alone the world around us? How many of us are fortunate to have survived those vulnerable years?
Please support and be aware of the trans and GLBTQ suicide prevention resources that are available to those at risk: the Trevor Project, the Ian Benson Project at TransYouth Family Allies, and here in Denver, the Sent(a)Mental Project, a memorial to GLBTIQA suicides, founded by artist and author Dylan Scholinski, to name just a few.
In the midst of these tragedies, there is hope with the heartbreak-- hope inspired by stories of courage and resilience in the face of terrible adversity. We have one remarkable Colorado story very recently reported in the Denver Post. Ms. Alexandra Reyes was born in a traditional Mayan family in Cenotillo, Mexico in 1976. She transitioned to her affirmed female role at age 8 and endured terrible persecution and violence until she escaped to the U.S. Just this month, the Board of Immigration Appeals granted Ms. Reyes asylum status in the United States, based on the persecution and denial of protection that she would receive in her home country. Hers is a narrative of survival, perseverance and hope.
Angie's and F.C.'s deaths, and so many of these murders fueled by hate and marked by such extreme cruelty and violence, represent much more than crimes against individual victims. These murders are acts of terrorism against all trans, queer and gender nonconforming people. They are meant to threaten all of us who might dare step out of the closet or socially transition. In this war against gender diversity, our fallen sisters, brothers and queer sibs are heroes, not because of how they died but because of how they lived-- Affirmed and authentic lives that transcended the bounds of their assigned birth sex and defied the barriers and dangers of hate.
In this war, we often feel helpless, but our most powerful defense lies in the examples of our fallen. When we emerge from dark closets of despair, when we live our lives authentically and honestly, when we take our place at the table of humanity, we send our own powerful message-- each and every one of us. We gather tonight not just in remembrance of our sisters' and brothers' deaths but to stand in solidarity, with them and with each other, for dignity and against hate and violence. You, my brothers, sisters, families and allies are my heroes tonight. Thank you for standing here with me.