Honoring the Lives and Deaths of Our Trans Neighbors on TDOR 2018

The Transgender Day of Remembrance of 2018 has a new degree of poignancy to me because of the additional layers of transphobia that are on display and thread through the lives of our transgender neighbors. It is also the first year I’m blogging about a trans woman from Pittsburgh among those killed this past year.

The Transgender Day of Remembrance (TDOR) was started in 1999 by transgender advocate Gwendolyn Ann Smith as a vigil to honor the memory of Rita Hester, a transgender woman who was killed in 1998. The vigil commemorated all the transgender people lost to violence since Rita Hester’s death, and began an important tradition that has become the annual Transgender Day of Remembrance. This year is the 20th anniversary of TDOR.

Those whose memories we lift up this year include:

You will find the full list of names from around the world at Transgender.org.

*I’d like to note that Phylicia Mitchell was a Pittsburgh native. She grew up here, she was buried here, she has friends and family in the local community. But her life and death were not acknowledge in our media or by our elected officials. Phylicia’s violent death is a reminder, however, that this epidemic does not spare Pittsburgh.

The sobering reality is that while the resiliency and determination of trans folx have grown, the resources available are not proportionately accessible. The federal government has threatened to render them invisible by literally erasing transgender identity from federal programs and policies. They are doing this by redefining gender across every federal agency as an immutable biological characteristic we usually know as sex.

In Pennsylvania, we still do not have a statewide nondiscrimination law for either gender identity or sexual orientation. And based on the feckless Republican leadership who cannot stand up to Daryl Metcalfe and his band of far rightwing voters, that is not likely to change soon.  Pennsylvania’s gubernatorial staff established a LGBTQ Commission on the state level, but did not think to include any Black trans women or men. Membership of the Commission has been remedied, but there’s been no word from the Wolf Administration as to why this happened and how it will be prevented in the future. School districts like Lakeview in rural Mercer County push forward district nondiscrimination policies, unleashing vitriol and hate that is targeting our children. A trans woman from Mercer County was given a horribly harsh sentence for shooting a coworker who had been bullying her in the workplace over her identity. The media in her town savaged her and there’s been zero examination of the original bullying or the role of the employer, Wal-Mart.

Just last month, a group of trans activists and their allies went to the Allegheny County Jail (ACJ) to protest conditions for transgender inmates. The City of Pittsburgh prioritized street closures over politics and arrested 12 activists, including 3 Black trans women. 1 cis individual was actually detained for several hours. Police in riot gear at a peaceful protest sends a powerful message about how Pittsburgh devalues the transgender community, in spite of everything.

Chick-fil-A has been embraced as the sponsor of youth programs for the Pittsburgh Marathon over the objection of Pittsburgh Public School, the Pittsburgh City Council, and the Mayor as well as more than 1200 residents. A Democratic candidate for District Attorney told a Black trans woman that he believes she is sinful during a meeting and has done zero work to illustrate his professed support for her and others ‘in spite’ of his religious beliefs. A failed candidate for State Senate refused to cast a vote on nondiscrimination in his role as a Ross Township Commissioner, misled people about his reasons, and would not go on the record clearly supporting or opposing said legislation.

Two regional organizations with trans leadership and a history of trans activism shuttered during 2018 – THRIVE and Pflag Butler, leaving our region without a presence in the public schools or any supports in Butler County. Our LGBTQ Community Center closed and then reintroduced a greatly scaled back resource for trans and nonbinary youth – the Friday night drop-in first established in 1996 and rarely missing a week until this year. Trans led organizations are still doing their work, but are not being funded or resourced adequately to build their infrastructure and continue their community work.

What I’m documenting here is the pattern of decreasing government support, fewer resources and groups offering direct support, increasing religious based bias, and … the courageous souls who still resist.

Fewer resources, lower levels of support, the lack of legal protections, and no signs that this will abate soon do not bode well for the next few years for the trans community. And while I will address what and who is working to change that in another post, I want to stay on task here.

The cultural milieu described above fuels the environment where trans lives are lost to violent deaths. And the need to lift them up, year after year, takes a toll on other trans folx who are struggling to make way in this worsening environment.

Since 2013, we have been trying to publish or promote a post dedicated to the life and death of each lost sibling. You can find our posts chronologically grouped by year at these links.

I shared some of my personal reflections on how I learned about the need acknowledge the deaths of our trans siblings in an essay on PublicSource. I learned by listening to my trans friends and colleagues.

When media outlets and law enforcement agencies don’t use best practices surrounding crimes against transgender people, it re-victimizes.

You will find more information on the Trans Day of Remembrance You may notice that different sites or events have different numbers and/or names for those lost. There are many reasons this is the case – the data itself is imprecise, the criteria for whose death is due to anti-trans violence is hard to confirm, the inclusion of genderqueer and or genderfluid individuals who also identified as trans, the inclusion of victims of police-related-shootings, death by suicide, and domestic violence varies. But it is also the true that the overriding impact of erasure, deadnaming and misgendering individuals by law enforcement, the media, and family often greatly reduces our access to their names.

I urge you to visit different trans sites todays both on the web and on social media. Listen. Listen to what your local trans led organizations are saying about TDOR. Listen to what your local transgender neighbors are saying. Reach out in response to calls for support and investment. You may not get an answer you want, but this is not about allies getting our needs met. We are here for the Trans Day of Remembrance to listen, to support, and to acknowledge the realities of anti-trans violence for those who died in a world that does not value transgender siblings.

Transgender Day of Remembrance 2018 Pittsburgh
FTransgender Day of Remembrance 2018 Pittsburgh

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