Seattle-area Trans activists make Nov. 20 more than a memorial
by Luzviminda 'Lulu' Carpenter
Special to the SGN
In the hallway outside of Queer Youth Space, I sat with a person talking and crying. I had pulled a young adult attendee I knew as a community organizer and public speaker out into the hallway to make a statement about Trans Day of Remembrance (TDOR) and what came forth were tears. This person proceeded to state that they were about to get their ID changed to reflect their true gender and preferred name. As most Transgender people, he had to go through a process with a therapist and he had just learned the day before that he was getting the signature on government forms that will transform his life. He proceeded to state, 'The best way for me to honor those that have passed on is by living. ... But I am so sad.'
There was fear, joy, sadness, and a myriad of complex emotions wrapped up in this private moment while organizers, predominately students, from University of Washington Q Center and Seattle University Office of Multicultural Affairs within Queer Youth Space membership space and organizational offices were preparing to start the TDOR program inside. Ingersoll Gender Center representatives were also present. Ingersoll was one of the first organizations in Seattle to support TDOR and Transgender rights.
'I believe that economic injustice in the form of pervasive workplace and employment discrimination along with health care discrimination are two of the most serious aspects of institutional and societal violence against Trans people,' stated Breanna Anderson, Ingersoll's board co-president. 'These injustices have such tremendous emotional, economic, and interpersonal implications and they empower and fuel many of the more visible and notorious acts of personal violence that TDOR was originally created to memorialize. The issues are multiplied for Trans and gender-queer people of color. Economic and health care equality is or should be among our top priorities.'
Anderson's statement resonates with the Transgendered young adult who processed their emotions between joy of new community possibilities and fear of all the statistical possibilities around their choices in life. We stayed with each other between long moments of silence and a few whispered comments, one Trans person and one ally, and contemplated what healing and transformation would really look and feel like for each other and Trans people across cultures and communities until the program began. As a new person to this event, he was both overwhelmed by the amount of violence that happens to people who identify like him, and overjoyed with the new feeling of being surrounded by a supportive network.
This participant was experiencing what many of the organizers had intentionally set forth to create. Sabina Neem, 2013 co-chair of the Seattle LGBT Commission and assistant director of SU's Office of Multicultural Affairs, spoke as an ally, student, and youth supporter before the program began. 'If I die, I want to be remembered by how I lived and not in which the way I died,' Neem said. 'As people who have experienced trauma, sometimes we don't see the way we recreate it for ourselves and so we wanted to do a different kind of Trans Remembrance Day. We wanted to do one that didn't erase the reality of Transphobic violence and institutional violence that leads to the death and losses in our communities, but rather captures all of that while not re-traumatizing people. ... We are really doing our best and as a newbie to the community struggling with how to do that while bringing those most impacted to the center of the organizing ... and then creating spaces for people to really honor those that we lost in our communities, Trans folks and gender-variant folks, in ways that focus on ways that they lived.'
THE ROOTS OF TDOR
Much like this moment, a lot of healing and grieving happens alone and the organizers of this event brought silent grieving into a collective community space as the predecessor before them. TDOR began as a response to the murder of Rita Hester, a Transgender African American, on November 28, 1998, in Allston, Massachusetts. Her murder, like much of the violence directed at the Transgender community, went unsolved. The first candlelight vigil in response to Rita's death was held on December 4, 1998, with 250 people coming forth in anger and grief. The vigil sparked a web-based project called 'Remembering Our Dead.'
Fourteen years later, it has been transformed into an International Day of Remembrance that happens on November 20 of each year for Transgender, gender non-conforming, and gender-variant people along with their allies, both to memorialize those killed due to Transphobia and to call attention to the continued violence against Transgender communities worldwide. This has been a useful tool for bringing awareness and calling people to action against the ongoing invisibility of systematic and state violence against Transgender people.
Jovonna Vaughn from Queer Youth Space, who works as a Wing 3 research and education director and community organizer, stated, 'Honestly, before folks from Seattle University and University of Washington approached me, I had no idea about Trans Remembrance Day, so this is my first event around this day. What really attracted me to hosting it here [at Queer Youth Space] was how they are trying to take it from being a re-traumatizing event ... to more of really celebrating life. I think they are trying to make an important shift in the way we think about Trans Remembrance Day. What also drew me to host this event at Queer Youth Space was the healing aspect that it was bringing.' Often times, people have a lot of exposure to trauma and not as much access to resources for healing multiple types of oppression and violence. Vaughn represents a new generation of people being exposed to Transgender stories and histories and how those stories can be remembered in a different way with elements of resiliency.
BEYOND GRIEF TO HEALING
The organizers of this TDOR event wanted to remember the systematic and state violence that happens to Transgender and gender-variant people, but add on to the traditional readings of the names with a space to focus on living and healing from trauma and violence. Students from UW Q Center and SU OMA, in collaboration with Queer Youth Space, organized the program. The plan was to begin the evening at QYS with a healing circle and sound healing conducted by Zenyu Healing co-directors Christine Guiao and April Nishimura. Guiao stated that they desired to create 'a space where we all find healing as a community and strengthen our solidarity so we can move forward in creating the world we alternately desire.' Guiao and Nishimura took the first half of the program to focus on giving up grief as an offering to the universe, and the need to release it from our individual and collective body. They also focused on how to call in new energies, new strength, and a renewed commitment to justice and goodness after multiple tragedies.
Nishimura said, 'Zenyu believes we need healing around these issues ... and that from a more healed and centered place we can come forward into the world to make the effective changes we want.'
After the sound healing, people proceeded to Cal Anderson Park for the traditional candlelight vigil and the reading of the names. First, Maddox Pratt of SU stated some of the intentional changes in the traditional reading of the names. 'We have chosen this year to not read the ways people were killed. We recognize that this is a break from tradition and that reading how people died has been and is meaningful for many people. Our choice stemmed from a desire to honor those lost without reducing their lives to the manner of their death. We do not wish to erase the violence experienced by Trans people - rather, we wish to bring attention to the multiple forms of violence we face, be it employment, housing, or health care discrimination, violence from the prison industrial complex, lack of safety in schools ... the list goes on.'
GENDER, RACE, AND CLASS
Pratt continued, 'We also want to highlight the ways in which racism, classism, and sexism are also present in this list. Most of the people whose names are read tonight are people of color, most are Trans women, and many were likely sex workers. This is true each year. Thus when we come together to raise awareness of violence against Trans people, we do so with the knowledge that to end this violence means we also need to work to end racism, end sexism, fight for the rights of sex workers, challenge the growing prison industrial complex, and refuse to be silent about this country's exploitation of the poor, both here and globally. We come together tonight to honor and mourn those who are no longer with us, to pledge that will never forget, and to strengthen and support our community so that we can continue to advocate for change, so we that we can be here to continue to remember.'
There are many ways that these issues become invisible and those directly targeted are silenced. Often times, while organizing around hard issues that bring forth lots of complex feelings of sadness, rage, and grief, the need to have voices heard is of utmost importance. This TDOR event reminded me of the powerful force of healing collectively and a different way to give voice to violence and harm done to people's individual bodies and communities that are marginalized. It is a human right to live free of violence and the fear of death. There is a long road ahead for Transgender justice, although there have been many known and unknown grassroots community efforts to keep people safe within homes, on the streets, and within institutions. There are groups of Transgender people locally and internationally who are living and organizing daily - building alternative families, communities, and organizations while discovering, creating, and dialoguing about new and old ways to transform and heal from the intersections of oppression, violence, and trauma.
Share on Facebook
Share on Delicious
Share on StumbleUpon!