Guest Blogger

Reflections on Transgender Day of Remembrance, 2014

Filed By Guest Blogger | November 18, 2014 2:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Living, Transgender & Intersex
Tags: anti-trans violence, hate crimes, New Jersey, TDOR, Transgender Day of Remembrance

Editor's Note: Guest blogger Barbra Casbar Siperstein was the first transgender member appointed and confirmed to the Democratic National Committee, and is currently a member of the DNC Executive Committee and the deputy vice chair of the New Jersey Democratic State Committee. In addition to being the president of the New Jersey Stonewall Democrats, she's a published author, small business owner, veteran, and a grandparent.


For the last dozen years as November 20th approaches, I tend to get particularly reflective and become aware of a depressive cloud that sometimes haunts me.

No, it's not because it is my birthday and I'm another year older and not much wiser, but because it is Transgender Day of Remembrance (TDOR), and I will be speaking about the insidious crimes committed against people like me -- just because we choose to be honest about our gender identity and want to live as ourselves in a culture, a society, a socio-political/religious environment that for whatever reason tolerates, condones, and promotes fear and hate. It's a culture that wants us gone.

The more violent the culture, it seems the more violent the crimes against us. As transgender people make strides in gaining rights and positive visibility, so it appears that the crimes against us, including murders, grow in number and become more gruesome.

tdor.jpgWe're certainly making progress. TDOR has become an international event that is observed all across the globe. We are recognized -- this year there is even a TDOR in Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan.

In 2012 the White House held its first TDOR observance. In 2009, the U.S. passed the very first LGBT inclusive federal bill, the Matthew Shepard/James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Law. Today, in over 150 U.S. jurisdictions, it is explicitly illegal to discriminate against transgender people in employment, housing and public accommodations.

Technically, according to a 2012 opinion issued by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) under the chairmanship of Obama appointee Chai Feldblum, it is illegal to discriminate against an employee or applicant on the basis of the person's gender identity under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. I say "technically" because unlike non-discrimination laws in New Jersey and other jurisdictions, it does not say so in black and white.

Mia Macy, who won her EEOC case, is still unemployed. That's what I mean about technical -- transgender people need more! We need Congress to move on ENDA and other explicit inclusive protective laws.

More and more groups and institutions are holding a transgender awareness week, capped by a TDOR observance. So why are more and more murders reported? Transgender people are coming out, and we are recognized and empowered, but when we come out, we are also more visible -- and for some, that makes them more vulnerable.

Is this the price of progress? The problem is that aside from Brazil, in most other countries we are not recognized or our lives even reported. So as we push for recognition and openness, this is the risk. But if we don't stand up and step out, how can we change the world; how can we remove the stigma with which the ignorant and the haters have burdened us?

Mahatma Gandhi said, "First they ignore you, then they laugh at you (ridicule you), then they fight you, then you win. In much of the world we are still ignored, and many of those who are murdered are never reported. When they are reported in Third World countries, there is often not even a name attached.

When you watch Fox News and other right-wing and even mainstream press and media, you see that transgender people are often ridiculed, trivialized and mocked. But more and more the hateful religious fascists are fighting us. The National Organization for Marriage, seeing that the marriage wars are being lost, is now spending millions of dollars going after what is perceived to be the weak link in the LGBT community -- the "T."

But more and more, we are now winning with more of us coming out, being positive role models, and tearing down the false stereotypes.

Progress Is Uneven

Princeton University has hosted a TDOR observance for the past dozen years in their university chapel, which rivals the most magnificent of Gothic cathedrals. Each year I read a proclamation from either the governor or one of our U.S. Senators or Representatives.

In 2013 Congressman Rush Holt, the local representative and an acknowledged champion of transgender rights, attended and spoke. (He is one of the seven Democrats who defied Barney Frank and Nancy Pelosi and voted against the gay-only ENDA because it was not transgender-inclusive, and was penalized by HRC, which denied him a coveted 100 rating.)

Now fully out, a formerly closeted, high-ranking aide to Christie Whitman read a letter from the former Republican Governor. The Essex County prosecutor, Carolyn Murray, was so moved after the brutal murder of Victoria Carmen White that she attended and asked to speak!

Late this summer when we engaged the Princeton University organizers to plan ahead for this year's observance, the feedback from the students was, "too many political people." They did not want to hear from the people who care and who are in a position to make things happen. So this year there will be no proclamations and no public officials.

The last few years I've spoken at the TDOR service at an evangelical Lutheran chuch in Teaneck, New Jersey. After the 2010 redistricting, many folks in Bergen County woke up to the fact they now were represented by an anti-civil rights, Tea Party reactionary ideologue, Scott Garrett. Is it surprising that the organizers of this event, representing the shrinking middle class, reached out to Loretta Weinberg -- the New Jersey transgender community's political godmother -- and to the proactively transgender-inclusive Assemblyman Tim Eustace as speakers?

I was also invited to speak at a TDOR event in Newark that's sponsored by AAOGC, a group serving some of our most at-risk inner city trans people. In 2012 I met Eyricka Morgan, a panelist at their transgender awareness event. In September 2013, the Rutgers student was brutally stabbed to death in New Brunswick. TDOR has always been especially moving for me, but when I realize that there is something personal -- someone I've met who's been killed -- it takes it to a whole new emotional level, and I realize anew how important it is that this violence must end.

For more information about TDOR or to locate an observance in your area, please visit http://tdor.info/.

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