Standing in the cold, under the towering sign of a 7-11 on the corner of Roscoe and Halsted on Nov. 20, a small group gathered for the Illinois Gender Advocates Transgender Day of Remembrance to honor the transgender men and women who were brutally murdered over the past year, to support the survivors and to call for an end of the hate that motivates the violence towards individuals based on who they are.
Even with increased media attention, more protections being enacted and a rise in transgender involvement in government positions, the number of transgender hate-crime victims has increased.
Beyond the candles lit in memory of the known victims, Center on Halsted's Laura Velasquez reminded gatherers that 80 percent of crimes go unreported, and Reverend Bradley Mickelson of New Spirit Community Church, added, 'I can confidently say that I believe there are many more that have fallen whose names we do not know because of a hatred in our society of people it does not choose to understand but, instead, chooses to fear.'
'We are cast out. We are treated as freaks,' said Stevie Conlon, chair of Illinois Gender Advocates. 'What happens to our community? We're treated as an object. Something not to be talked about, that should be hidden in the dark, where it's OK to hit or beat an object because we're not treated as people. We're not accepted in the light of day as people and we should be. The tragedy is that we come here every year to remember these poor people who have been killed because they're different. And until society accepts us as the people we are, when will this stop?'
Equality Illinois Director of Public Policy Rick Garcia called for an end to the violence, 'No one should be beaten, battered, bruised or even murdered, simply because of who they are as persons ... . We come together and stand in demand that our elected officials pass the strongest hate-crime legislation possible.'
Even as the light of the candles reminded the crowd of the pain and sorrow that hatred has caused, there was also a hope in the hearts of those gathered.
Bill Greaves, director and community liaison of the City's Advisory Council on Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Issues, pointed to the progress in Chicago, 'Already our city has added gender identity to its human-rights act, which publicly acknowledges the rights of transgender people. And this summer, at the opening ceremony for the Gay Games we heard directly from our mayor that lesbians, gay, bisexual, and transgender men and women are welcome in Chicago. That statement reverberated nationwide. In fact, it reverberated worldwide, because it is one of the few times in the history of our nation that it has been said that directly, that succinctly.'
Greaves added that the state of Illinois includes protections against discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, and that that definition of sexual orientation includes gender identity.
The fight is not over. The family of Krystal Heskin, a Chicago victim, attended the vigil and stood as a reminder that there is still progress to be made and that there is still work to be done.
'I'll say this right now,' said Conlon, 'I'm just a regular person, and the trans people that you know are just regular people, and they should be treated that way. We should have as much of a right to be safe as anyone else, because when we're out in the open, and when we're accepted as people, that's when it becomes totally inappropriate to treat us inappropriately ... . We should be everywhere, and we should be out.'