Saturday, November 20, 2010

Transgender Day of Remembrance

Here is an article I wrote for NY Blade (now defunct), on 2007 Transgender Day of Remembrance. The event was called A Celebration of Life and took place at New York City's LGBT Center.  Hope you'll enjoy the read. Also, I hope you do remember to celebrate the Transdenger Day of Remembrance  through the related events taking place on and around this day.

Alina Oswald
Author of Journeys Through Darkness
(a biography of an award-winning, legally blind photographer)

NYC Transgender Day of Remembrance—A Celebration of Life
By Alina Oswald

“Remembering our dead, celebrating our lives” were the main topics of this year’s Transgender Day of Remembrance event taking place at the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Community Center in New York City. Now in its ninth year, the Trans Day of Remembrance memorializes the many members of the trans community killed because of their gender identity. The event began in San Francisco, November 20th, 1999, as a response to the deadly stabbing of a Massachusetts trans woman called Rita Hester, on November 28th, 1998.
Rita was not the first victim of hate crime in her community. Nor was she the last. Among hate crimes committed against members of the LGBT community, the most cruel and atrocious ones are those against members of the trans community. Victims are often shot, stabbed or beaten to death, run over several times or denied emergency medical care or HIV medication.
This year’s Transgender Day of Remembrance event, Celebration of Life, brought together members of the LGBT community and also individuals from all paths of life. “We hope to bring awareness [and] educate more people about the trans community,” Cristina Herrera, the Gender Identity Project Counselor at LGBT Community Center, explains the purpose of the event. “I think it’s important to get to know the [trans] community because we’ve been around for many years. Many of us have come out regarding their identity. We want people to be more aware of what we are about and how to address that.”
There were an unprecedented impressing number of organizations supporting the community and sponsoring the event. Among those present at the Celebration of Life were Housing Works, The Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Community Center, TransMasculine Community Network, Silvia Rivera Law Project and Audre Lorde Project/Transjustice.   
Today there are also many programs available for members of the trans community. For example, Herrera provides counseling through support groups meeting at the LGBT Center. Still, it’s not enough to spread the message that trans community members are indeed part of the society. They can be someone’s neighbors and co-workers.
To help spread this message, community educator Kyle Applegate goes out to colleges to talk about trans issues. He hopes that such information can help get rid of the fear and prejudice against differences. For Applegate, the Day of Remembrance “is about remembering people who have lost their lives so we can be here today.” That’s also another reason for his outreach work. 
Causes and their related events are easier to recognize when identified by color—for example red for AIDS, pink for breast cancer, etc. The color of the 2007 Trans Day of Remembrance was green. The color stands for the green tree of life, a symbol of memorializing the trans community roots. Green paper leaves were available for individuals to write down thoughts or the names of those lost to hate crimes. The leaves were then to be placed on the tree, thus filling it with life. 
With candles or flashlights in hand, individuals united in a short march to Jackson Square Park. There, they came together once again in a vigil, holding hands to form a circle around the park. They listened to prayers and shared their thoughts. Once back at the LGBT Center, the event continued with speeches, poetry recitals and songs. There was no moment of silence. There were moments of remembering the dead by standing up and saying their names out loud.
Those who survived still believe in a day when they’ll be able to walk on the street without being hurt or harassed. The lack of education about the trans community may fuel the related misconceptions and stigmatization. Education about the community may lead to less fear or stigma. At least that’s what Ron B. believes. That’s why the actor and celebrity impersonator encourages LGBT friends and supporters to become ambassadors within their respective communities and educate about trans issues. 
Commenting on the importance of the Transgender Day of Remembrance, Ron B. points out that “the most important thing of being part of this peaceful march is to have people recognize that we are human beings. And as human beings and as productive people in the community, we need to be recognized as well.”

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