On Sunday, the Boston-area trans community came together for the 14th annual Transgender Day of Remembrance . This global celebration commemorated on Tuesday began as a candlelight vigil in Allston, Mass., following the murders of local trans women Chanel Pickett and Rita Hester in November 1998.
While TDOR remains a secular event, a groundswell of local churches began to open their doors in recent years to offer the trans community a space to host this event.
For the past three years, the local community has gathered at the Cathedral Church of Saint Paul (Episcopal). After a welcome by the Rt. Rev. M. Thomas Shaw, SSJE and short talks from local trans leaders, a community speakout enabled interested parties an opportunity to share their personal stories of violence and discrimination.
Then the service took to the streets with a short candlelight march to the state Capitol. Here the names were read of those killed in Massachusetts because of their gender identity, along with descriptions of the nature of their murders. After this reading, trans activists pleaded for the legislature to keep the trans community safe. Even though the Massachusetts Legislature passed a gender nondiscrimination bill in 2011, this bill failed to include provisions that extend protections in public accommodations, an omission the Massachusetts Transgender Political Coalition plans on addressing.
Following this march, several hundred people formed a circle where they read the names of the 265 people killed over this past year as a direct result of their trans status. However, many more acts of violence go unreported. Often, the victim is not identified as trans either because the researchers don’t know a given language or the crime reports simply don’t have a place to mention it. Also, some countries classify anyone who is trans as “homosexual” and have laws against any gender non-conforming behavior, such as so-called anti-cross-dressing laws. These laws are mostly in countries like Malaysia and Saudi Arabia, where there is no visible cross-dresser community like in Western countries. The targets of these laws are usually trans women, perceived incorrectly to be men wearing women’s clothes. Furthermore, these statistics do not include those trans people who committed suicide as a result of anti-trans bullying and other forms of harassment against the trans community.
The 2011 report “Injustice at Every Turn,” issued by the National Center for Transgender Equality and the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, depicts the most comprehensive survey of the ongoing discrimination faced by the trans community to date. Among their findings include:
•Discrimination was pervasive throughout the entire sample, yet the combination of anti-transgender bias and persistent, structural racism was especially devastating. People of color in general fare worse than white participants across the board, with African-American transgender respondents faring far worse than all others in most areas examined.
•Respondents lived in extreme poverty. Their sample was nearly four 15 times more likely to have a household income of less than $10,000/ year compared to the general population.
•41 percent of respondents reported attempting suicide compared to 1.6 percent of the general population, with rates rising for those who lost a job due to bias (55 percent), were harassed or bullied in school (51 percent), had low household income, or were the victim of physical assault (61 percent) or sexually assaulted (64 percent).
Four years ago, the transgender community expanded the annual TDOR memorial into Transgender Awareness Week, eight days of events designed to lift up the gifts of the trans community. As part of this celebration, the MTPC created I AM: Trans People Speak , a video series sponsored by the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Discrimination (GLAAD) to raise awareness about the diversity present within the trans community.
On Tuesday, a group of transgender community advocates met with White House staff to mark Transgender Day of Remembrance and discuss ways in which we can work together to ensure dignity, equality, and justice for all people.
Becky Garrison is a religion writer and author whose books include “Jesus Died for This?” and “Red and Blue God, Black and Blue Church.This report was supported by a 2012 Knight Grant for Reporting on Religion and American Public Life. The Knight Grants are a program of the University of Southern California’s Knight Program in Media and Religion.