More than 200 people packed the Metropolitan Community Church of Washington on Nov. 20 to commemorate the lives of transgender people who died at the hands of hate violence in the U.S. and abroad over the past year.
The event, the annual Transgender Day of Remembrance, included a ceremonial reading of the names of 22 transgender women who were murdered in the U.S. in 2015 as well as several dozen trans people also murdered this year in other countries.
“The Transgender Day of Remembrance occurs annually on Nov. 20 to honor those who have been murdered because of transphobia and those who have survived gender-based violence,” a statement released by organizers of the event says.
“The overarching goal is to bring attention to the continued violence endured by the transgender community with continued hope that together we can end such violence and intolerance,” the statement says.
Transgender activist Alexa Rodriquez read the names of trans people murdered in Latin American countries while three fellow Latina trans women held a 30-foot-long banner with photos of about a dozen of the victims along with Spanish language newspaper articles reporting on the killings.
Rodriquez said many of the killings took place in Brazil and El Salvador.
Among those speaking at the event were D.C. Council member David Grosso (I-At-Large); Marvin Bowser, brother of Mayor Muriel Bowser; and Sgt. Jessica Hawkins, supervisor of the D.C. police department’s Gay and Lesbian Liaison Unit, who last year became the first transgender officer to be appointed to the position.
Veteran transgender activist Earline Budd, the lead organizer of the Trans Day of Remembrance event, said she was disappointed that Mayor Bowser and D.C. Police Chief Cathy Lanier did not attend the event. Bowser’s predecessor, Mayor Vincent Gray, and Lanier each attended and spoke at the event last year.
Marvin Bowser said Mayor Bowser, who had the event listed on her schedule one day earlier, had to cancel her appearance after feeling “exhausted” from the strain of her trip to China the previous week to promote business investment and tourism for the city.
D.C. Police spokesperson Lt. Sean Conboy said Lanier wasn’t able to attend due to a scheduling conflict. But Budd said Lanier initially told her she planned to attend.
“She had given her personal commitment to being here,” Budd told the Blade. “And we never got a notice that she was not going to be here.”
The Trans Day of Remembrance came two days after D.C. police arrested a transgender activist during a protest demonstration in the city’s Columbia Heights section in which protesters blocked traffic during evening rush hour.
The arrest of trans activist Jes Grobman on a charge of allegedly assaulting a police officer and disobeying a lawful order to stop blocking traffic was denounced by more than two dozen fellow protesters, who had assembled on the sidewalk next to the Columbia Heights Metro station at 14th and Irving Streets, N.W., to draw attention to abuse of trans people by law enforcement agencies throughout the country.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office dropped the charge of assaulting a police officer but left in place the charge of disobeying a police order. The National LGBTQ Task Force issued a statement “condemning” Grobman’s arrest, saying police could have exercised restraint in responding to the protest.
Budd said she did not think Lanier decided against attending the Trans Day of Remembrance event out of fear of being booed by the trans activists attending the event, some of whom also participated in the protest on Nov. 18.
“She would not have been booed,” said Budd. “She has the respect of the community,” Budd said, noting that Lanier was received warmly during her appearance at the event last year.
Grosso, a longtime supporter of the LGBT community, read a resolution unanimously approved by the City Council formally recognizing the Transgender Day of Remembrance. Marvin Bowser and Sheila Alexander Reid, director of the Mayor’s Office of LGBTQ Affairs, presented an official proclamation from the mayor declaring Nov. 20 Transgender Day of Remembrance in the District of Columbia.
Marvin Bowser and Grosso noted that discrimination and violence targeting the D.C. trans community continues despite the fact that D.C. has in place the nation’s strongest legal protections for transgender people.
“It’s not so much because we haven’t tried, but because there needs to be a mindset change,” Grosso told the gathering. “You need to change the culture here entirely and begin to see people as human beings from day one and not this horrible stigma and these horrible prejudices that we send and let grow in our communities,” he said.
More than a dozen representatives of the local trans community, including several youths, spoke about their personal experiences of discrimination and violence.
“I’m a transgender woman,” said Kimora Green. “No matter if you’re Hispanic, black, Caucasian, no matter if you’re passable or not, we all go through the trials and tribulations of being told, ‘Oh faggot stay away from me,’ or being told ‘You’re a man,’ or being told, ‘You just need to die – kill yourself,’” she said. “I’ve been told that many a time.”
Green and others who told of similar experiences said they have emerged as survivors who have become stronger and more determined to fight for their rights and push for change in society’s perception of trans people.
Others who spoke and participated in the event were Ruby Corado, founder and director of Casa Ruby, the local LGBT community services center; Lourdes Ashley Hunter, the national transgender rights advocate and chief operating officer at Casa Ruby; and veteran D.C. trans activists Dee Curry, Jessica Xavier and Jeri Hughes.
Chad Griffin, president of the Human Rights Campaign; and Lt. Cheryl Crawley, commander of the police Special Liaison Division, which oversees the Gay and Lesbian Liaison Unit, also attended the event but did not speak.
Hawkins told the gathering she is happy to be in a position on the police force where she can work with the LGBT community in which she is a part. After listening to her fellow trans brothers and sisters recount the difficulties they sometimes face, Hawkins said she, too, has encountered such hassles.
“Even though I’m a police officer, I still get the looks,” she said. “I still get the ridicule. I still get people saying stupid things to me.”
But she said the department and the chief are committed to protecting the rights of the city’s diverse population, including the trans community.
“I know there’s a lot of distrust with the police,” she said. “If you hear of a bad outcome or a bad interaction between someone that’s my brother and sister and an officer, let me know. I promise we will take care of it.”
Rev. Dwayne Johnson, pastor of Metropolitan Community Church of Washington, which ministers to the LGBT community, delivered an opening prayer at the event. Rev. Abena McCray-Peters of D.C. Unity Fellowship Church, which also has a largely LGBT congregation, officiated over the reading of the names.
Curry, who received a standing ovation for the remarks she delivered at the event, told the Blade it would have a lasting impact on the community.
“I think this was one of the best Transgender Days of Remembrance since the inception of the whole program,” she said. “I think that the diversity and the unity – I can feel the spirit here and I was so overwhelmed by it.”