A mother whose trans daughter was murdered is hosting an annual picnic to celebrate her memory and raise awareness about violence against trans people.
Valerie Griffin lost her daughter De'Janay Stanton in 2018 and has been hosting yearly gatherings to celebrate her life ever since. Each year, she connects with other parents who have lost their trans children to violence and incorporates their families into the memorial.
"I just want to bring some type of happiness and closure to the parents of trans children who have lost their lives," Griffin said. "Watching them all come to celebrate their children and rejoice together is what brings me comfort."
The fifth annual picnic takes place at 4 p.m. Aug. 27 at Rainbow Beach, 2871 E. 75th St.
This year's event is dedicated to De'Janay's uncle, Danylus Stanton, who was killed in May when he was hit by a car on the expressway after he pulled over to help someone with car trouble, Griffin said.
Danylus was one of De'Janay's biggest supporters and they shared a special bond, Griffin said.
"He was her favorite uncle. She loved him so much and he loved her extra," Griffin said. "When I first had her, I cried because she looked like him. Since she died, he's been coming with me to all of the court dates and everything else. At least they're together now."
Attendees will release balloons in honor of De'Janay and Danylus Stanton, as well as other trans people who have been lost to violence. There will be lots of free food, music and bounce houses for kids to play in, Griffin said.
"When we're celebrating their lives, there's never sadness," Griffin said. "Everyone's full of joy. Every year I look forward to this because it brings so much comfort. I'm going to continue to do this until I'm not breathing anymore. Through the rain and the sleet and the fog and the cold, it's gonna happen."
De'Janay grew up in Englewood with her mother, two sisters and two brothers. She was a dedicated activist and a kind person who's laughter could fill up a room, her family and friends said.
When De'Janay began transitioning when she was 11, her family stood by her without question, Griffin said.
"She never had to come out and tell us," Griffin said. "It was just normal for us and a part of how she was growing up. When her friends' parents threw them out for being trans, she brought them to my house, because she knew they'd get the same love from me that she got."
Griffin said there wasn't enough room at De'Janay's funeral to accommodate the hundreds of people who came to pay their respects.
"It made me feel so extremely good to know there were so many people out there my baby touched," Griffin said. "My baby will be 24 forever, and she meant a lot to us. She meant a lot to a lot of people. If you had the chance to know her, you would've just loved her."
After De'Janay was killed, Griffin founded the organization Mothers of Murdered Transpeople (MOMT) to bring together parents who've lost their trans children to violence, and help them to keep the memory of their loved ones alive.
The group raises awareness about the violence trans people experience and helps keep young trans people safe by providing them with resources and advice, Griffin said.
"We need to bring awareness and really get these girls' stories out so that we can try to better understand the violence and come up with warning signs for people so they can stay safe," Griffin said. "I'm going to continue to be my daughter's voice, I want her story to be heard."
In the future, Griffin hopes to create a resource center for trans people on the South Side so that young people don't have to trek to the North Side to connect with the LGBTQ+ community.
"We have all these girls out south transitioning, younger ones coming up and they need to have a safe space close by so they're not afraid of coming out and being who they are," Griffin said.
To donate money to help Griffin buy supplies for the picnic: https://www.gofundme.com/f/forever-the-main-event?utm_medium=referral&utm_source=unknown&utm_campaign=comms_tfms+forever-the-main-event.
Read more about De'Janay Stanton here: www.windycitytimes.com/lgbt/Remembering-Dejanay-Stanton/71906.html .