Today is Transgender Day of Remembrance. On this day every year, we gather as a community, either physically or in spirit, to remember those of our number who have been cruelly and violently slain just because they decided to live a courageous and authentic life. For me and for many in my community, this day evokes negative visceral reactions. I grieve for my fallen brothers and sisters and friends and family. And I grieve because I am reminded very sharply that I am one of a small minority of people who are aware of this day and are truly repulsed by the violence that continuously shakes the very foundations of our courageous journey to become a better version of ourselves.
I am shaken and I am sorrowful because the story of each of our fallen is my story as well. Every morning I follow the same ritual as I prepare to leave the sanctuary of my home to fight for equality in the harsh outside world. I look at the picture on my dresser of my great-grandmother— the woman who taught me the meaning of love and acceptance. I touch the prayer book on my hallway table— a reminder of the strength my spiritual community brings me every week. Finally, before I cross the threshold, I look back at all of the things that represent love, warmth, acceptance, and safety. And as I cross the threshold of my house, I wonder if I will cross it again. Because I know that I have a 1 in 12 chance of being murdered just for being transgender.
The story of Leelah Alcorn is my story. Leelah grew up, like me, in a conservative Christian church, the church of Christ, and her parents refused to accept her gender identity. As a result, Leelah died by suicide because of the social isolation and personal burden she felt in trying to live with the rejection she experienced. While Leelah did not die by the hand of another, she did die as the result of transphobic violence. She is not alone. Nearly half of all transgender people have thought about suicide in their lifetime and nearly a third have made an attempt. Moreover, nearly half of all homeless youth are transgender, indicating the dire consequences of our lack of support from family and friends. As a person who was once homeless and a survivor of suicide, I grieve the loss of Leelah and others of my community who will die by suicide.
The story of Amancay Diana Sacayán and Marcela Estefani Chocobar is my story. Like me, Amancay and Marcela were transgender activists. They were both violently murdered, and Marcela was tortured so badly her remains had to be verified by DNA. As an activist who grew up in Alabama, I faced weekly threats on my life. Now, as I continue my work in North Dakota, I wait for the day that I will be known to those who hate the work I do; therefore, I stand in solidarity and sadness for the 80% of transgender student who feel unsafe at school, the 59% of transgender students who face verbal harassment, and the 50% of transgender people who report physical violence.
Finally, I grieve because transphobia and transgender violence is not limited to bigoted cisgender people. Today, on our day of remembrance, I was attacked on social media for including a gender, non-conforming man on my list of those to remember on this day. The fact that I was attacked for daring to commemorate someone who was the victim of parental violence because they didn’t meet some people’s definition of what it means to be transgender tells me that we have a lot of work to do even within our community to address the violence that seeks to destroy us all. Violence is the consequence of devaluing human life and expression. The cure is to love and accept everyone. No exceptions.
Go into the world and make no peace with oppression. Be kind to one another and love each other.
Please know that you are valuable. If you are in crisis, please click here.