More than 150 people turned out Sunday night at D.C.’s Metropolitan Community Church for the 12th Annual Transgender Day of Remembrance, an international event that recognizes transgender people who have lost their lives to anti-trans violence.
Organizers said the annual observance began in 1999 in recognition of Rita Hester, a transgender woman in Boston who was killed the previous year in what authorities have called an anti-transgender hate crime. Since that time, Transgender Day of Remembrance events have taken place in dozens of cities in the U.S. and abroad.
“These were our brothers and sisters, family members, friends, people of faith, innocent and quite often, as is the case in this crazy world of ours, they have been taken from us by violence,” said transgender activist Jessica Xavier, one of the organizers of the D.C. event.
“But they’re not martyrs,” Xavier said. “They didn’t die for a cause. They weren’t a member of any political movement. They were human beings, just like all of us…This is a time for caring and compassion, for healing and for hope, for sorrow but also strength.”
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The highlight of the event included the reading of the names of transgender people from the D.C. area and others from across the nation and throughout the world that lost their lives to hate violence based on their gender identity or expression.
Following the reading of each name, the audience responded by saying, “We remember them.”
Transgender activists Julius Agers and Ruby Corado read the names of local transgender victims who lost their lives between 2000 and 2009 and international victims, including several from Latin America, who lost their lives in 2011.
Corado read the name of Lashai Mclean, a 23-year-old D.C. transgender woman who was shot to death in Northeast D.C. in August of this year. Agers read the name of Gaurav “Gigi” Gopalan, a 35-year-old aerospace engineer who was found fatally wounded on a sidewalk in the city’s Columbia Heights section on Sept. 10 of this year.
Police said Gopalan died in a hospital a short time later of blunt force trauma to the head. Police have yet to make an arrest in either of the two cases.
Gopalan, who lived his professional life as an out gay man, was dressed in women’s clothes when he was found unconscious on the street, according to police. Although many of Gopalan’s friends said they considered him a gay man, transgender activists say he likely was targeted because of his appearance as a transgender woman.
Earline Budd, an official with the D.C. organization Transgender Health Empowerment and the lead organizer of Sunday night’s Transgender Day of Remembrance, said the event has grown significantly over the past several years.
Budd told the gathering that a greater recognition that anti-transgender violence is rooted in ignorance, hatred and discrimination would lead to the eventual decrease in such violence.
Budd and transgender activist Ruby Corado said they were encouraged by the large numbers of gays, lesbians and straight allies that have joined the effort to fight anti-transgender violence. Corado praised D.C. police officials, including Chief of Police Cathy Lanier, for speaking out and establishing internal police policies aimed at curtailing anti-transgender discrimination.
However, the two said police have yet to solve a string of violent attacks over the past several years against transgender residents of the District, including the murders this year of Mclean and Gopalan.
“You’re hearing an outcry from the community for getting these cases solved,” said Budd. “And again, I’m going to appeal to Chief Lanier to do more in terms of trying to solve some of these transgender murders.”
Police have said murders of both transgender people and gay men often are difficult to solve because the perpetrators usually are strangers whom the victims met at the time of or shortly before the murder. Police say most of the non-LGBT murders are committed by people who have had some type of relationship with the victim, making it easier for investigators to find witnesses who identify a suspect.
Jeffrey Richardson, director of D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray’s Office of LGBT Affairs, told the gathering that Gray considers transgender residents an important part of the city’s diverse and vibrant community.
“We believe people are to be judged by the content of their character, not by their gender identity,” Richardson said. “Let’s rid our city and our country of the hatred that leads to violence and the loss of life.”
Rev. Abena McCray, pastor of Unity Fellowship Church of D.C., which has a largely African American LGBT congregation, said transgender residents are welcome in the city’s faith community.
Following a selection of songs by her church’s Agape Praise Choir, McCray delivered a sermon-like talk calling for acceptance and support for the city’s transgender residents.
“You are unique, and the Creator loves you just as you are,” she said. “You are not a mistake. God doesn’t make mistakes…We celebrate transgender today. Lord, you knew what you were doing when you created transgender.”
Corado said support of the event by the larger LGBT community has been uplifting to transgender residents despite the continued incidents of anti-trans violence in D.C.
“I am extremely happy because the support that we have gotten from the LGBT community and allies has been outstanding in the last couple of years,” she said. “It’s just amazing that people do care about what happens to us. And it makes us feel like we’re not alone.”
Transgender activist Jason Terry of the D.C. Trans Coalition said he is encouraged that the Day of Remembrance took place less than a week after the White House hosted an historic, first-ever meeting on transgender issues, including the issue of anti-trans violence.
“This is a great event, as always,” he said of the Day of Remembrance. “It’s so important to pause and remember those that we’ve lost. We’ve had a bad year. The way we honor those deaths is by moving forward towards justice.”