Hundreds of people gathered at the Metropolitan Community Church in Northwest Washington on Tuesday to commemorate the annual Transgender Day of Remembrance.
“It is a special day today that we think about our transgender brothers and sisters, those that are no longer on this planet and those who remain in this room who stand on the front lines fighting every day,” said Rev. Abena McCray of Unity Fellowship Church D.C. “We honor you.”
Brian Watson of Transgender Health Empowerment honored Mayor Vincent Gray and Lisa Mallory, director of the D.C. Department of Employment Services, for their work on behalf of trans Washingtonians. He specifically applauded the Gray administration for nominating Earline Budd and Alexandra Beninda to the city’s Human Rights Commission, launching the country’s first publicly-funded campaign to combat anti-trans discrimination and implementing the Project Empowerment employment initiative for trans Washingtonians.
More than 70 people have graduated from the program since it began in Sept. 2011.
“It is the right thing to do,” said Gray after he and Mallory accepted their awards. “This symbolizes too that it is time, it is time for us to make sure if we’re going to call ourselves one city, than everybody in the District of Columbia will have a place to be able to enjoy life in one city in the District of Columbia.”
Gwendolyn Ann Smith organized the first Transgender Day of Remembrance as a way to honor Rita Hester, a trans woman murdered inside her Boston apartment in Nov. 1998.
The D.C. event was one of dozens of Transgender Day of Remembrance commemorations, candlelight vigils and other gatherings held across the United States and around the world.
A group of trans activists gathered at the White House earlier in the day to discuss what Budd described as “the crisis and issues of discrimination facing the transgender community.” Gray also declared Nov. 20, 2012, as Transgender Day of Remembrance in D.C.
“We come to remember and honor the life and love of those loved ones and friends and family that we’ve lost,” said Jeffrey Richardson, director of the Mayor’s Office of GLBT Affairs. “The sorrow’s still with us. The pain stays with us, but we also must celebrate the resilience, the connectedness, the love that exists within our community. We continue to get up and rise over and over and over and over again despite the challenges and circumstances that so many in our community and all of us collectively face.”
Metropolitan Police Department statistics indicate there have been nine reported bias-related crimes based on gender identity and expression in D.C. from January through October, compared to seven during the same period in 2011.
A jury late last month convicted off-duty D.C. police officer Kenneth Furr of assault with a dangerous weapon and solicitation for prostitution after prosecutors contend he shot at three trans women and their two male friends while they were sitting in a car. The D.C. Superior Court panel acquitted him with assault with intent to kill while armed and five other charges in connection with the Aug. 2011 incident.
A Human Rights Watch report in July criticized D.C. police for confiscating condoms from trans prostitutes and other sex workers.
Those who gathered at Metropolitan Community Church also paid tribute to Deoni Jones, who was stabbed to death at a Northeast Metro bus stop in February. Her mother, Jadean Jones, noted she became a receptionist at a Southeast D.C. hair salon after graduating from Project Empowerment.
“That was his title, but JaParker (Deoni Jones’ birth name) always did their hair and make-up,” said Jadean Jones. “I’m going to support y’all all the way to the end because I knew what my son stood for and what he meant.”
D.C. Fire Chief Kenneth Ellerbe used the Transgender Day of Remembrance commemoration to apologize on behalf of the department for the emergency medical personnel who declined to treat Tyra Hunter after a 1995 car accident once they discovered she was trans. Hunter subsequently died from her injuries.
“I want to say on behalf of the department, I’m truly sorry for what happened,” said Ellerbe. “Tyra Hunter’s case forced us to take a serious look at how we view and address this city’s very diverse population. Under Mayor Gray’s leadership, the District of Columbia continues to grow and flourish. And before this message gets lost in the words, I want to say again on behalf of the entire Fire and EMS Department I’m sorry for what happened and we are committed to doing better for this community throughout the city.”
Trans activist Geri Hughes said Hunter’s case has “always bothered me” as she introduced Ellerbe.
“He’s here tonight because he is a responsible man and he’s a good man,” she said. “He wants to take responsibility and apologize on behalf of the fire and emergency medical services for that lapse in service.”
The mother and siblings of NaNa Boo Mack, who stabbed to death in 2009, also attended the Transgender Day of Remembrance commemoration. Co-organizer Xion Lopez placed Mack’s ashes onto a table on the stage at the beginning of the event.