Transgender Day of Remembrance—November 20, 2013, USCF Parnassus, San Francisco, CAMaking my way through heavy rain and shouting strikers, I finally found the little conference room where about 50 or so people had gathered to recognize Transgender Day of Remembrance. This was one of scores of TDoR gatherings around the world, each honoring people who had been murdered in the past 12 months as a heartbreaking consequence of trans*phobia.
My delayed arrival had caused me to miss the opening remarks. By the time I settled into a chair, the panelists were introduced and each asked to share what TDoR meant to them.
Janetta Louise Johnson, honored elder of the panelists, spoke of the incarcerated trans* people who have died not as the result of physical violence but who gave up on living after unendurable psychological and emotional abuse. She turned our attention to the grey view through the large windows and spoke of the rain that reminded her of the first TDoR she attended. "Words hurt more than fists," she said.
Jae Maldonado said this day sadly brings to his mind the word "fight," bringing up the recent incident where an agender teen was set on fire while sleeping on AC Transit in the East Bay . He urged everyone to take up the task of advocacy. Maldonado certainly does his share in many organizations, including the SF Unified School District.
Community advocate Marcelle Million stressed the importance of "not becoming immune" to the constant news of violence against trans* people, especially the preponderance of trans* women of color.
Isa Noyola, program supervisor at El/La Programa para Translatinas, offered a hopeful message of increased funding in SF toward the prevention of violence against trans* people. (In my research as a public Priest/ess, I was greatly interested in her description of the public altar space at El/La, which commemorates trans* people who have transitioned beyond this life. It is now on my list of places to visit.)
Activist extraordinaire, Mia Tu Mutch lamented that "the only time [trans* people] can see each other in such numbers is while grieving and crying." She reminded us of the importance of education. "People are killed because others are challenged. If I'm not a woman and I'm not a man then I'm not a human and I deserve to be killed." She offered a challenge to trans* allies, "Find ways to step up throughout the year, not just [TDoR]. Please take the time to talk to your cis-friends about [trans*] issues. Sit with the uncomfortability [sic]."
Harlan Weaver spoke of his relative privilege as a "white trans* guy," in the academic world, adding his voice to the chorus of recognition that trans* women of color are the ones who are targeted the most in trans*phobic violence. He spoke of his cis-gendered father who died last year as a way of bringing up his experience that it is "impossible to to speak for the dead." Weaver spoke movingly about being "responsible to ghosts by being responsive to them. Embrace our ghosts. Let them reach through me and touch the world."
Emcee CeCe McDonald echoed that sentiment by observing that "our shared experience of being haunted" connects us as a community. She led the reading of the names, with each panelist joining in, reading the name, age, date/location/cause of death of each trans* person who had been murdered since November 20, 2012. Between each name, CeCe rang a singing bowl, and the mournful sound of a violin slowly rose from a corner of the room. All else was silent and still as the gathering recognized each individual whose story ended in violence. Most of the cases are unsolved.
The final speaker was Maddie Deutsch, MD, who pointed out that this opportunity to speak was, indeed, a privilege. Years ago, she had been challenged by many obstacles while trying to open a trans* health clinic in Los Angeles. "No one wanted to rent space to me when they found out what I wanted to do there." Now she commutes between SF, the East Bay and LA in her medical services at several trans* clinics and is developing trans*inclusive services at UCSF.
The presence of an MD at the podium suddenly awakened me to the significance of holding this gathering in a city institution rather than a cultural center. Trans* issues have progressed beyond marginalized or specialized circles into the wider arenas of city, state, and national concerns. UCSF's support of this event, and recognition of TDoR shows a stronger alliance between trans* people and those who provide informed, considerate, and capable medical care.
I approached Dr. Deutsch after the event ended, introducing myself as a Pagan Priest/ess concerned with serving trans* communities. I said I was hoping to make contacts and learn about resources that supported the well-being of trans* people. She politely offered her card and thanked me for reaching out.
This is where I admit that this service is very new and awkward for me. Though I identify as a genderqueer person, I have not participated in any trans*specific groups or organizations. Part of this is due to my own privilege as a white person who comfortably passes as "woman" with relatively few challenges to my navigation through the world. I am grateful for this opportunity to stretch my comfort zone and hope that I may continue to learn and grow so I can be of service for the benefit of all beings.