“This is not the first time we have gathered for a service like this, said Reverend Gwendolyn Howard, addressing the nearly 100 people in the Beneficent Church in downtown Providence. “And I’m sure, and I fear, it will not be the last. As long as violence continues, we will gather. We will say the names of those we have lost. We will light candles. We will make sure that the stories of people in our community get told. That’s why we gather, that is why we are here.”
Transgender Day of Remembrance is an international movement commemorating and honoring the lives of transgender and gender expansive individuals lost to violence and the injustices faced by transgender and gender expansive communities.
Observed every year on November 20, the Transgender Day of Remembrance was sparked by the murder of Rita Hester in Allston, Massachusetts which happened 20 years ago this month. The Transgender Day of Remembrance was then established in 1999 by Gwendolyn Ann Smith, a transgender activist, in memory of Rita Hester.
Various reports show that anti-transgender violence in the United States has been rising in recent years. According to the Human Rights Campaign, in 2017 advocates tracked at least 29 deaths of transgender people in the country due to fatal violence. This made it the deadliest year on record for transgender and gender expansive individuals, with the majority of deadly attacks being against women of color. Numbers for transgender people fatally shot or killed by other violent means in 2018 are trending to match that of 2017.
The service at Beneficent is sponsored by the TGI Network, Rhode Island’s Transgender, Gender Non-Conforming and Intersex Support Network.
The candle lighting portion of the service is always the most difficult. Candles are lit for each transgender person murdered in the United States as their pictures are shown on screen. The people murdered, mostly women of color, are given brief descriptions, never enough to encapsulate their lives, because how could there ever be enough said about a person murdered for the simple fact of being who they are?
“There have been far too many words, lately, devaluing the members of our community,” said Reverend Howard, “Tonight we will share a few words that are different. They tell us about who we can be and what we can do.”
The following three videos are “words by and for the transgender and gender diverse community:
“We are a diverse people,” said Reverend Howard. “We can be fragile or we can be strong. We can be stubborn and persistent. We have been around a long time, and we are not going to go away. This is the season of Thanksgiving, but as a community we are in mourning. We grieve the loss of any of us who faced discrimination, any of us whose family or friends have turned away. We especially grieve, for those who lost their lives…
“Yet we have reasons to give thanks also. We are thankful for the examples of those who have been lost to violence. Their insistence on living the truth of their lives even in the face of the gravest danger, teaches us what heroism really is…”
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