Organizers and participants of the city’s annual Transgender Day of Remembrance on Monday night said they believe the event succeeded in honoring transgender people who lost their lives to violence despite the disruption of the proceedings by a single protester who demanded that D.C. Police Chief Peter Newsham leave.
With nearly 200 people looking on at the Metropolitan Community Church of Washington, where the event was held, activist Ashley Love, who describes herself as a transsexual and intersex journalist, began shouting at Newsham to get off the stage, saying the event was not a “prop for the police department.”
The atmosphere became tense when Love walked on stage, where Newsham was sitting beside D.C. Council member David Grosso (I-At-Large), and got into a brief scuffle with the church’s pastor, Rev. Elder Dwayne Johnson, when she grabbed a microphone from his hands and continued shouting for Newsham to leave the stage.
Gay D.C. Police Lt. Brett Parson and Sgt. Jessica Hawkins, who’s transgender, rushed to the stage and stood in front of Newsham, appearing to act as a shield as Love continued to shout at him. Members of the audience, including several trans activists, shouted at Love to stop the disruption.
The commotion subsided to some degree when Newsham left the church through a stage door and Love returned to her seat. Newsham had been scheduled to speak at the event, but he did not return to do so.
Mayor Muriel Bowser arrived at the ceremony minutes after Newsham’s departure. In her remarks at the event she praised both Newsham and the police department for what Bowser said was their strong commitment to combat violence in the city, especially violence targeting the transgender community.
“Today is a day I wish we didn’t have to have,” she said.
As she spoke, Love shouted from her seat that police continue to harass and mistreat transgender people. She cited the monetary settlement earlier this year that the city awarded trans activist Lourdes Ashley Hunter. Hunter sued the city with the assistance of the ACLU for a false arrest stemming from a noise complaint by neighbors at the apartment building where Hunter lives.
“I think it’s important that we recognize that our police department has come a long way in working with the community, the transgender community included,” Bowser told the Washington Blade. “We always have to be vigilant to do more. But I think Chief Newsham and the record of MPD should be commended,” she said.
The tension and drama surrounding Love’s protest intensified minutes after things appeared to have calmed down when veteran transgender activist Earline Budd, the lead organizer of D.C.’s annual Transgender Day of Remembrance, became ill while sitting on stage and nearly fainted. Paramedics that were outside the church as part of their normal duty for appearances by the mayor and police chief were called to assist Budd.
They escorted Budd off the stage and outside the church, where an ambulance was waiting. About a half hour later, much to the relief of the event’s organizers and participants, Budd returned to her seat on the stage. She later told the Blade the excitement over the disruption caused her blood pressure to rise, weakening her and bringing on a fainting spell.
She received a standing ovation upon her return to her seat.
Transgender Day of Remembrance, which has become an international event, was founded in 1998 by transgender activist Gwendolyn Ann Smith to memorialize the murder of Rita Hester, a trans woman who lived in Allston, Mass., according to a write-up by D.C. organizers of this year’s event.
What initially began as a web-based project has since grown into an international day of action held each year on Nov. 20 in more than 200 cities worldwide. Among other things, the event commemorates transgender people who have been murdered in the previous year.
As of this month, there have been 265 reported murders of transgender people throughout the world in 2017, organizers said. That figure includes 25 murders of transgender people in the United States.
So far this year there have not been any trans murders in the District of Columbia, according to D.C. police.
Monday night’s event in D.C. highlighted the murders of 12 transgender women in D.C. dating back to 2000. Of those 12 cases, eight remain unsolved.
“We continue to urge the D.C. MPD and the U.S. Attorney’s Office to bring some of these cold cases back to the community for information,” the write-up by organizers says.
Monday’s event followed by three days the release by the Human Rights Campaign Foundation and the Trans People of Color Coalition of a report detailing the trans murders this year called “At Time to Act: Fatal Violence Against Transgender People in America in 2017.”
“The unique and tragic stories featured in this report reflect the obstacles that many transgender Americans – especially trans women of color – face in their daily lives,” the two groups said in a statement.
During Monday’s ceremony in D.C. participants read the names of those murdered in D.C. and some other cities as Rev. Dyan Abena McCray-Peters, pastor of the city’s Unity Fellowship Church, chanted prayers and recited the word “ashay,” which comes from an African tradition of honoring the dead.
Bowser delivered a mayoral declaration denoting the day as Transgender Day of Remembrance in the District of Columbia. Grosso presented a similar declaration passed unanimously by the City Council. David Meadows, chief of staff for D.C. Council member Anita Bonds (D-At-Large) read a letter from Bonds honoring the event and expressing support for the transgender community.
Among those speaking were family members of four transgender women murdered in D.C. in past years. Among them were Judean Jones and Alvin Bethea, the mother and father of Deeniquia “Dee Dee” Dodds, who was stabbed to death at a city bus stop in 2012.
Since their daughter’s death Jones and Bethea have emerged as outspoken advocates for transgender rights. They told the gathering on Monday night they were grateful for the strong support they received from the LGBT community at the time of Dodds’ death. Bethea praised D.C. police for an aggressive investigation that led to the arrest of the person charged with the murder a short time later.
Newsham told the Blade after the event that he decided to leave because he wanted to bring the disruption to an end.
“There’s a lot of frustration in the transgender community with the police across the country,” he said. “I think that here in Washington, D.C. we do a much better job than in some other places. But when somebody stands up like that and they’re voicing that kind of frustration I empathize with that,” he continued. “I understand it. I’m not going to blame that person for being upset and being passionate about that.”
Newsham said that had he spoke he would have pointed out that he isn’t so naïve to think D.C. police are perfect and don’t have a ways to go to improve their interaction with the transgender community. “But I did want people to know I’m willing to move us forward in that direction.”
At least three prominent transgender activists attending the Trans Day of Remembrance event took strong exception to Love’s claim that D.C. police as a force are hostile and threatening to transgender people. D.C. trans activists Dee Curry and Jeri Hughes joined Budd in calling D.C. police as a whole highly supportive to the transgender community.
Trans activist Ruby Corado, founder and executive director of the LGBT community services center Casa Ruby, said she agreed with Love’s concerns. She said a part of the transgender community struggling to survive due to an inability to find gainful employment and who are forced into “survival sex work” continue to be targeted by D.C. police through anti-prostitution crackdowns.
Hughes, who said the community can’t expect the police to exempt transgender people from existing prostitution laws, said the answer is channeling those forced into sex work into employment training programs, some of which the city provides.
“We must call it like it is,” Curry said in remarks at the event. “We know that there are some police among us that are of a different culture and they discriminate. But in Washington, D.C., to be fair and to be honest, we have come a long way and this police department is not that. And we need to acknowledge that.”
Love responded by calling out from her seat that Curry was wrong and that D.C. police continue to harass and threaten trans women of color in the city.
“You had your time,” Curry replied. “Everybody heard you. We want to move on with the proceedings.”
In a statement she sent to the Washington Blade Tuesday morning, Love said, “2017 saw three trans people killed by U.S. police, Kiwi Herring, Sean Hake and Scout Shultz.”
She added, “D.C. police recently paid a $40,000 settlement to the ACLU after unjustly arresting black trans leader Lourdes Hunter, so understandably most trans people of color find it revolting for the D.C. police to usurp and degrade the sacred TDOR and why attendees loudly applauded the removal of controversial Chief Newsham from our ceremony stage, for we came to honor our sisters and brothers tragically stolen by violence, not to be co-opted by those in uniform whose brutality we find unacceptable.”
Participants supportive of Newsham’s appearance said those applauding did so because the disruption appeared to have ended, not because Newsham left the stage and the church.
“Ashley Love is a professional provocateur who revels in invading others’ spaces to promote herself,” said longtime D.C.-area trans advocate Dana Beyer. “The progress our community has made with our allies over the past decade is a testament to the long, hard work of many, and the general ineffectiveness of the tactics of solo disruption,” Beyer said.
The annual Transgender Day of Remembrance commemoration at the Metropolitan Community Church of Washington on Nov. 20, 2017
Posted by The Washington Blade on Monday, November 20, 2017