Community members and chosen family members gathered April 30 at Taskforce Community and Prevention Services to remember murdered transgender woman Paige Clay and to create a community forum on violence against transgender women, particularly those of color.
Clay, 23, was found shot in the head April 12 in an alley on the 4500 block of West Jackson Boulevard in the West Garfield Park neighborhood of Chicago. Clay's chosen family members feel like the case is being ignored by Chicago Police, who were invited to the forum to answer questions regarding the case, but did not attend.
"It saddens me that Paige was brutally murdered and no one cares," said Chayntell Jones, an outreach worker at Taskforce Community and Prevention Services, an HIV prevention and education agency serving the Westside.
Employees of Taskforce Community and Prevention Services opened the event by welcoming attendees. Many people associated with the organization knew Clay because she attended a weekly transgender women's group at the agency.
"If life is about pursuit of happiness, what opportunities do transgender people have to actualize?" said Wanda Oziera, agency coordinator at Taskforce Community and Prevention Services. "We are coming together as a community and making today an event that creates change, a catalyst for change."
In solidarity with the gathering for Clay, the National Center For Transgender Equality (NCTE) cancelled a reception scheduled for the same time at the Center on Halsted, with NCTE Executive Director Mara Keisling speaking at the forum instead.
"It's been a really tough month for transgender people around the country. We know of four murders across the country this spring," said Keisling. "We're really trying to prop up Paige and draw attention to this tragedy. We need to figure out how to stop it."
The murders Keisling mentioned included Clay, Coko Williams of Detroit, Brandy Martell of Oakland, Calif., and Deoni Jones of Washington, D.C.
Aides at the White House reached out to NCTE about these murders, Keisling said.
"Everyone from all over the country is hearing about Paige and Paige's life from the great work here," Keisling said. "Just know that NCTE really wants to help in anyway we can ... Please contact us for anything at all."
Attendees took a moment of silence to reflect on Clay's life, which led to individuals sharing memories of Clay and what she meant to them and the community.
Brian Turner, an outreach coordinator at Taskforce Community and Prevention Services, knew Clay since 2004 when she was doing runway in balls, underground competitions in which different houses battle for prizes and trophies with a fusion of cat walking, dancing, voguing and drag. The ball houses, composed primarily of transgender women and same-gender-loving Black men, are similar to families or fraternities, each one cheering on its members as they compete.
"She wasn't a person out on the street. She was trying to do something with her life. She wasn't a nobody," said Turner. "I didn't want her life to go unnoticed. I'm crying because people came out to show support."
The gathering then turned to a forum for discussing violence against transgender women, including the issues of gender identity and race.
In 2010, 44 percent of LGBT murder victims were transgender women, and 70 percent of LGBT murder victims were people of color, according to the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs. Transgender people, as a whole, are only about 1 percent of the LGBT population.
"Being transgender should not be a death sentence," said Precious Davis, youth outreach coordinator at the Center on Halsted. "We've seen enough as a community. It's time to start making demands."
The discussion turned to racism and transphobia within the LGBT community, particularly in Boystown, with several speakers pointing out the Take Back Boystown movement and the Tumblr blog, When in Boystown.
"We just need to stop being close-minded to things. It starts in out community it starts with us," said Turner.
Many speakers noted the sizeable turnout, approximately 75 people, and expressed sentiments of hope and change for the future.
"It's amazing that we all came together, but it's sad that it has to be on an occasion such as this," said Davis.
"I hope you're inspired. I hope you're inspired to leave here with a plan. Change won't happen if we sit on our hands and wait for someone else to do it," said Oziera.
A funeral service for Clay was held May 4 at Acklin Funeral Home.