Kandy Hall, 40, Sarito do Sopao, 39, Tiffany Edwards, 28, Thifani, 18, Vitoria, 16, Alex Madeiros, 8, unknown woman … unknown woman. These were just a fraction of the names of murdered transgender people read at the 2014 Trans*gender Day of Remembrance and Resilience held at the Center on Halsted ( COH ) Nov. 20, part of events held around the world.
The event's history dates back to 1999. At a church in the Allston neighborhood of Boston, the trans* community came together to honor the memory of Rita Hester who had been slain a year earlier.
According to an Oct. 30 release from the Transgender Europe's Trans Murder Monitoring Project, from Oct. 1, 2013 to Sept. 30, 2014 there were 226 cases of reported killings of transgender individuals with 10 occurring in the U.S. and a staggering 113 in Brazil alone.
The continuing violence in the U.S. against transgender women of color has left many in the community wondering how such a horrific epidemic of violence and death will ever be brought to an end.
The names of fallen transgender comrades-in-courage were honored at remembrance events nationally and worldwide. Each event was as richly diverse in character, identity and essence as the community it honored.
For Crispin Torresone of six committee members engaged in planning the Center on Halsted eventthe shift in atmosphere for 2014 was related to the prolific rise in transgender voices over the past year.
"Given the visibility and changes in terms of the platform that trans* politics and trans* people have in the media and in our community, we decided to not only use the day to pay our respects to people who have passed, but also to lift up the voices of people who are living," Torres told Windy City Times. "The end of last year's event left me feeling powerless. The names were read and we just took off. So when we came to the table this year, we decided to use the stage to call people to action and to use the frustration, sadness and anger that we feel to propel our movement and our actions forward. We wanted to reflect our optimism and our resilience. We know there's a lot more of us in the community than there are on paper."
Thus "resilience" was added to the evening's title. Attendees were given purple ribbons as they arrived in the lobby of the COH's Hoover-Leppen Theatre. On opposite walls a mural had been placed where they could writeon paper shaped in the form of a butterflythe name of a living transgender person or people they loved or had affected their lives in a positive way.
The theater quickly filled to a standing-room-only audience comprised of trans* and gender-variant people andin solidarity with themmembers of the LGB community and straight allies, advocacy groups and community leaders, artists, government representatives and business owners.
Before the first word was spoken at the podium, Torres, fellow committee members and partnering organizations the Trans Life Center at Chicago House, Affinity, Lambda Legal, Howard Brown Health Center and the Center on Halsted had the atmosphere they wanted. There was a palpable sense of hope and defiant celebration as friends reunited and new introductions were made.
Among the audience was 2015 mayoral hopeful Amara Enyia. "This event is important to me because I have people in my life who are transgender," she told Windy City Times. "There was a story [in WCT] that talked about the plight of trans* women in my community of Austin and I think it is a story that is not told often enough. It's an issue that's not put in the forefront when we talk about all the challenges in the community. We need to be amplifying these stories and humanizing people. With the police department, we have so many issues with their training, with viewing people as suspects automatically, with not seeing [trans* people] as human beings. I think that's why we have so many issues with police brutality and lack of accountability. We need to change the culture of the police department. This is something that affects all of us. To me, tonight is about our commonalities as human beings."
"Today is a hard day," Torres said in opening remarks. "Probably one of the more difficult ones for us to get through. [But] it forces us together; to check in, recalibrate, think about the work and how we're doing it and remember the people we have lost due to transphobia."
In delivering the keynote, celebrated activist and self-titled "cactus in the struggle" Alexis Martinez noted the lack of clarity world-wide as to the numbers of trans* people killed. "There's no clear record, just a rough estimate," she said struggling to contain her emotions. "There's very few jurisdictions that have statistics that properly identify trans* people. Trans* women represented an overwhelming percentage of people who were subjected to violence. I want to remind everyone here tonight to take care not to label these persons as 'victims', rather they should be viewed as the heroic and resilient vanguard of the movement. For dignity, equality and the full measure of human rights, these are our soldiers."
Martinez challenged the audience to move beyond mourning. "We must honor these persons by developing a genuine liberation mentality and forge a revolutionary consciousness," she said. "For too long we've settled for the scraps that fall from the LGBTQ banquet table. We must be involved in our liberation at every level. The social service agencies need to become agents of change, not just service. If law enforcement cannot or will not change the way it treats trans* people, we must pursue them in the courts, in the legislature or in the streets if necessary. We need to take care of each other. We need to find a way that we can bridge those gaps between us. We're not going to have the political power to change things unless we connect each other."
A rousing and impassioned performance by Joel Hall Dancers, made up of youth from the Center on Halsted, Ellishon Douglas, Shyrell Johnson, Arnold Jordan, Angel Lopez, Armad Porter, Derrius Robinson, Steven Armani Santiago, Greg Slater, Christopher Titus and Davonte Williams served to remind the audienceas Hall noted"that we are all a part of this universe."
After the standing ovation had subsided, one-by-one, members of the community stepped up to the stage to read the names of those transgender people murdered in the past year. The silence between every name and during the moment the audience took to be grateful for the lives each name represented"May they rest in power," Torres saidwas broken only by a stifled tear.
Angelica Ross, the founder, CEO and executive director of TransTech Social Enterprises, closed the evening with a personal and candid speech.
"I had a lot of mixed feelings when I knew that the Transgender Day of Remembrance was coming up," Ross said. "I am starting to take a step back from the spectacle. I was shocked to be at such a wonderful gathering in a building to honor the lives of trans* women that we've lost but knowing that these spaces don't always honor us while we're living. I am angry that more is not being done. We've been asking for help for a really long time. Month after month, death after death, year after year and you realize that most of the LGBT community is not listening. It's the [kind of] privilege when you think something is not a problem because it's not a problem to you personally."
Ross challenged LGBT community members, leaders and advocacy groups to stop "gate-keeping resources."
"There's an emergency going on right now," she added referring to trans* lives. "All it took was one [Matthew Shepard] to get the gay community to rally together and to make it nationally known that this is a problem and that this needs to stop. We're at an average of 200-300 a year. I don't know what's broken on your ambulance on your way to the crime scene that is happening within the trans* community but you need to move faster. The non-profit industrial complex is moving way too slow for an emergency state. The longer it takes you, the more lives we lose."
Ross's words and those of Martinez, Torres and each of the participants at the event were amplified one hundred fold when the audience took to North Halsted Street to march past the rainbow pylons and brightly lit bars and coffee shops, heads held high against a bitterly cold wind and holding signs which declared "Trans Lives Matter."
Their calls of steeled audacity echoed up the street, joined by supportive horns of passing cars.
"We're here, we're loud, we're trans*, we're proud," they cried.
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