Sunday, November 21, 2010

2010 Transgender Day of Remembrance

The following is my speech for the Transgender Day of Remembrance observance in Charlotte, NC on November 20, 2010. I was asked to speak on the history of the event.

The Transgender Day of Remembrance was first officially observed in 1999. However it really began with a candlelight vigil following the murder of Rita Hester, a popular African-American transsexual woman, on November 28, 1998 in Allston, MA in the Boston area. Rita Hester was stabbed 20 times, but nothing was stolen from her person. Like so many murders including those in the transgender community, this one would have been forgotten and conveniently overlooked if not for the efforts of the local community organizing a candlelight vigil on December 4 which drew an estimated 200 in attendance. The lack of investigation by local law enforcement and the negative coverage in the press only a month after the tragic murder of Matthew Shepard angered many. The press consistently referred to Hester as a “transgendered man.” By the next year, the Transgender Day of Remembrance had been established in San Francisco by Gwendolyn Ann Smith.

Smith set up the Remembering Our Dead website and started the Transgender Day of Remembrance when she realized the murder of Chanelle Pickett, another transgender woman of color, in 1995 had been forgotten by most in her regular chat room despite heavy coverage and activism following the murder and during the trial of the killer. She realized the need for an annual memorial to read the names of all of our transgender brothers and sisters whose lives were taken away. The website is a way to document all the known names and be sure they are never forgotten.

The Transgender Day of Remembrance grew from one city to thirteen in 2000. There are now several hundred across the globe including many in North Carolina. As far as we know, the first Charlotte remembrance was in 2006 and has been held every year since 2008. Smith's work on the web has been picked up by Ethan St. Pierre also from the Boston area who makes our official international list. Both Gwen and Ethan's websites are listed on the back of your program.

The Transgender Day of Remembrance serves as a means of calling attention to lost lives by means of brutal murder. Most of these murders remain unsolved. We remind all of our friends, whether they be transgender, gay, or straight that we are your family members, co-workers, worshipers in houses of prayer, and fellow human beings. While we often talk about hate crimes and other appropriate legislative efforts, this is not about politics. This is not about building up any one person's or organization's ego. No one should benefit from politicizing our dead. It is about basic human dignity. It is about seeing the sunrise, the dawn of a new day and all the hope and promise that comes with it. We understand that when one life is taken away because of who they are, we all lose.

I had the honor earlier this year to visit the USS Arizona memorial in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. In the midst of untold natural beauty on the island paradise, the memorial is a stark contrast that remembers the American men and women who gave their lives on that awful day that will live in infamy. It is a quiet serene place above the wreckage of the sunken ship with oil still drifting to the top of the water. At the back wall of the third and last room sits engraved all the names... over one thousand names. That's when the enormity and significance of the day hits you. For me, it was quite overwhelming. When we read the names tonight, don't be afraid to be affected by it. Think about each one. Some, especially those listed as unidentified, did not receive a proper burial, a real funeral, a time for friends and family to pay their last respects. Let us undertake that role tonight. Thank you.

1 comment:

Pamela Jones said...

Excellent speech, Stephanie Marie!