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Community mourns the losses of transgender people, celebrates the living at TDOR event
by Max Lubbers
2021-11-23

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During the Trans Day of Remembrance/Resilience (TDOR) on Nov. 20, community members gathered for a town hall and memorial to remember the losses and lives of trans people in Chicago and beyond.

Hosted by Brave Space Alliance (BSA) and Life is Work—Black- and trans-led organizations on the South and West sides of Chicago—the event drew about 60 people to Room 43, 1049 E. 43rd St. They came not only to mourn those who were gone, but also to honor the living.

"After one of us dies, then there's the hashtags, then there's the sharing of posts, then there's uplifting of trans people," said BSA Director of Communications and Outreach Jae Rice. "We're here to celebrate you all and celebrate us while we're here."

The event started with a moment of silence to recognize those lost. This year has been the deadliest one on record for transgender U.S. residents. At least 47 people have been murdered, with at least five people killed in Chicago alone.

Although the official list of names is longer than it has ever been, Rice emphasized that the true list is actually even longer. Since police officers, family members and media outlets often misgender trans people following their deaths, many are excluded from officially documented numbers.

After holding space for those lost, there was a dialogue between community members and elected officials, who were invited to hear about trans people's experiences and needs.

BSA staff member Courtney McKinney said she knew and loved every trans woman who was known to be killed in Chicago this year. There needs to be some type of solution to help trans women survive, she said.

"I'm somebody's sister, somebody's mother, somebody's cousin, somebody's auntie," she said. "Why would you want to do that to us? I just want you to hear me now: Help us."

Community members highlighted the disproportionate violence committed against Black and Brown trans women. They also spoke about the daily struggles that face trans, non-binary and gender non-conforming communities—including housing and food insecurity, survival sex work and drug use.

To address these issues, people need to do more than just attend a Trans Day of Remembrance event, said Zahara Bassett, executive director of Life Is Work. While they invited elected officials and candidates to show their support and listen, she said they need to become comrades in the fight—not simply allies.

"You've done the first part. You walked through the door," she said. "Do the second part and ask what you can do and how you can do more."

BSA Founder and Executive Director LaSaia Wade said that people need to tell her what they're bringing to her table—not just invite community members to sit in their rooms and live by their rules. Often, she said, she gets pushback when she tries to get resources for BSA.

Instead, the city and state primarily fund larger, North Side organizations that predominantly serve white people, she added.

In 2019, the Chicago Department of Public Health granted nearly $41 million to agencies providing HIV prevention and care, according to its HIV Services Portfolio Funding Summary. Of that $41 million, CDPH directly delegated zero funds to any Black- and trans-led organizations.

Wade said it's exhausting to apply for grants and not receive them, especially as she and other Black and Brown trans people put in incredible effort to care for their communities.

"I've buried over 256 trans people in my life, and every last one of them leaves a stain on me," Wade said. "I'm tired, and a lot of people don't understand how tired I possibly am."

But Wade said she doesn't work alone. After the town hall finished, organizers held a moment of silence for Joy Morris and Lois Bates, both Chicago trans activists who have passed. They also called up Ebonii Warren-Watts, Reyna Ortiz, Iyanna Frantz, Amailia Black/Lia Stokes to introduce themselves and celebrate their work. Wade said these women passed the torch.

"I feel like I'm an anomaly, because I lived to be 54 and through the years I have lost so many friends to senseless violence," Stokes said. "It's just important that in this moment we continue to do the work and love on each other."

After highlighting these women, organizers invited community members to light candles for those lost this year. The first candle was lit by the young nephew of Disaya Monaee Smith, who was murdered in Chicago during September.

"This was my baby, and I'm going to miss her. She meant everything to me," said her sister Porsche Smith-Lewis. "...Thank you all for being here and giving the support that you can give to us."

As the candles were lit, community organizer Reyna Ortiz read off the names of TGNC people who died this year. After each name, she paused: "Say her name," she said; "Say his name;" "Say their name." Each time, a chorus of voices responded.

Ortiz said she feels so much loss on a day like TDOR. It's heartbreaking to see so many lives cut short. But she said she could feel a lot of love in the room, too. As the memorial finished, people came together to talk and eat.

"It's not just 2021. For decades, trans women have suffered and have fought to take care of their own community. Now there's a room full of trans activists and advocates that are fighting to liberate the trans community," Ortiz said. "I always say the only people that can save the trans community is the trans community itself."


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