Tonight I attended a Day of Remembrance like no other before. As expected, there was a candlelight vigil and a reading of the names of all of the transgender people killed in 2009. What made this different is what happened before hand.
Before the vigil, about 15 people, mostly college students, gathered at the busy intersection of Kingston Pike and Concord, just a block from the Cumberland Strip. The participants held signs, sharing with passing drivers that today was the Transgender Day of Remembrance, how many transgender people have been killed in 2009, and other statements.
For about an hour, hundreds of cars passed. Horns were honked in support, people waved, or yelled words of support as they drove by. A few were nasty though. One truck with two college age men yelled at me, “All transvestites need to die!”
At a minimum we shared our day or mourning with the people of Knoxville. If nothing else, we started dozens, if not hundreds, of conversations in passing cars. For a brief moment, many Knoxvillians were thinking about transgender people.
We returned to the church, Tennessee Valley Unitarian Universalist Church, where candles were passed out. Jaime stood on a bench and spoke to a crowd of about 25 people. Next I followed with a few words. Lastly, we light our candles and read the names of the 100+ people that were murdered in 2009 for simply being themselves.
My speech follows:
Since the first event in 1998 remembering the death of Rita Hester, the transgender community and their supporters have gathered each November 20th, all across the country, to remember our trangender brothers and sisters and supporters that have been brutally murdered by senseless acts of violence.
It is more upsetting that many of these murders are not only unsolved, but never investigated or under-investigated. It would seem that our society doesn’t deem a transgender person’s life or death worthy of the effort of an investigation. Further, it would seem that our society believes that trangender people invite the violence by being deceitful or different.
Tyra Hunter wasn’t murdered, but many activists argue that her death could have been prevented. The 24-year-old died as a result of severe injuries she suffered from a car accident in Southeast in Aug. 1995. Paramedics stopped administering life saving treatment when they discovered she had male genitalia and decided to mock her instead, witnesses said.
In the death of Angie Zapata, in Greely, Colorado, the attacker, Ray Andrade explained to police that he thought he “killed it,” but when she made gurgling noises and started to sit up, he hit her with the extinguisher again.
In a news article detailing the murder in a Colorado newspaper, readers offered comments such as:
- “(it) has every right to express itself however it wants…COMPLETELY DISGUSTING.”
- “I think i would have been too violently ill to kill it.”
- “The “victim” was scum”
During Hurricane Katrina, thousands of people were evacuated to neighboring states and municipalities. Once such evacuee, Sharli’e Vicks, was bused to a shelter in college station texas. Not long after arrival, Sharli’e took a shower in the women’s shower room. She was charged with criminal trespassing, a Class B misdemeanor, and her bail was set at $6,000. She languished in prison for four days. Legal advocates pressured the sherrif’s department and prosecutor and the charges were dropped. When one of the advocacy reported, “[they] contacted the Brazos County Sheriff’s Department. [We spoke with] deputies who referred to her as an ‘it.'”
The details of brutal murders and violent attacks leaves one to question what could make one human treat another so badly. The answer is transgender victims aren’t considered human by their attackers. How could you explain these horrible comments or methods of attack? Dozens of stab wounds, removal of genitals, strangulation, beaten to death, decapitation – even the most violent of people would have difficulty doing these same actions to an animal, yet, for some, it is completely acceptable to do these same actions to transgender persons?
Even more than passing hate crime laws in this country, the transgender community needs advocates – vocal advocates. It’s easy to ignore your friends or family when you hear them speaking derisively about transgender people. It hard to open your mouth and be an advocate. It’s hard to stand up for a group of people that is so easily and comfortably demonized by the majority of people.
Hate crime laws won’t change people’s hearts. Hate crime laws won’t make my neighbors see me as a human being. Only my actions and your actions can do that. When you’re asked to vote, vote. When you’re asked to call your representative or senator, call them. When you’re asked to change the world, find out where you sign up.
My transgender community is too small to change the world by ourselves. Too many of our vocal foot soldiers die every year. The majority sit in silence. We all live with fear.
My generation and generations passed have screwed this country up enough. The younger generation will be the one that sets things right, the generation that makes a difference in people’s lives. Don’t be indifferent. Don’t be silent. Be vocal. Be involved.
I don’t remember where I read this, but it seems appropriateness tonight:
The opposite of love is not hate, it’s indifference.
The opposite of art is not ugliness, it’s indifference.
The opposite of faith is not heresy, it’s indifference.
And the opposite of life is not death, it’s indifference.
Remember, you all have the power to be powerful. You only have to believe that you can make things better.