Honoring Our Fallen Trans Brothers & Sisters

by The Rev. Nancy L. WilsonModerator, Metropolitan Community Churches

On this International Transgender Day of Remembrance, as the LGBT community gathers to remember our transgender and gender variant siblings lost to violence and hatred, our grief is fresh in places like Memphis, Tennessee and Syracuse, New York. 

— On Saturday, November 9th, Duanna Johnson, already the victim of police brutality that had resulted in her abusers losing their positions on the force, was fatally shot. Her death, along with that of Tiffany Berry (February 16, 2006) and Ebony Whitaker (July 1, 2008) brought to three the number of unsolved murders of trans people in Memphis during the past two years. 

— Less than a week later, Moses “Teish” Canon was shot to death after being lured to an address in Syracuse to meet a friend to talk. Teish’s mother, accepting and supportive, is now struggling to have her child’s murder classified as a hate crime. 

Tennessee’s hate crimes law does not specifically address gender identity as a bias.  New York’s law includes perceptions based on gender as reason to enhance the penalty for violent crimes. Neither legislative position saved the life of Duanna or Teish — or the other 298 reported transgender murders, some whose names and faces gained prominence in the media — and far too many more whose did not. 

Today, I am calling on our community to remember not only the lives and deaths of the Brandon Teenas (December 31, 1993) and Tyra Hunters (August 8, 1995) and Gwen Araujos (October 3, 2002), but also the members of our community known to us by names such as “Midnight” (December 17, 1991) and “La Conchita” (October 2, 1997). 

I am calling on community leaders, both in the LGBT community and the wider community, and all who have access to the media, to pause today long enough to note that human lives are being lost every single day for no other reason than what they look like or dress like or call themselves. After Teish’s death, her mother received an anonymous phone call telling her that it was only her child’s gender variance that made someone angry enough to shoot her. There is no religious, moral, civil or personal justification for the taking of another human life. 

Gustavo Gutierrez wrote long ago: 

“Human history has been written…from the dominating social class. Attempts have been made to wipe from (our) minds the memories of (our) struggles. This is to deprive (us) of a source of energy, of an historical will to rebellion.”

 Judy Chicago reminded us:

 “All the institutions of our culture tell us — through words, deeds, even worse, silence — that we are insignificant. But our heritage is our power.”

 And on this day, it is also worth remembering that so many of us marched for so many years through the streets of our cities and towns, echoing this chant:

 “Silence equals Death!”

 Today, silence is still death — and our salvation as a global people, in every nation and every culture, is found in remembering. It was the memory, the almost unimaginable memory, of what happened to Duanna and Ebony and Tiffany that motivated the Tennessee Equality Project to provide training to the Memphis Police Department, even as they still grieved our losses. It was the memory of Amanda Milan and Marsha P. Johnson, as well as the daily recitations of violence experienced by the children of Sylvia’s Place in New York City, that inspired Metropolitan Community Church of New York City to train others in the de-escalation of violence.

 Today we remember our losses, and in our remembering we are inspired to action. Each of us can do something to stop the violence; each of us can do something to stop the hatred and to bring the reign of God for which we pray in our churches and our houses of faith, and in our hearts. Together, our prayers transform our memories into our motivation.

 Here is how you can honor the lives and commemorate the deaths of our transgender brothers and sisters who have lost their lives to anti-trans violence and hatred:

 — Make arrangements for an anti-violence or self-protection workshop at your community center or place of worship.

 — Contact your local police precinct, sheriff’s department or constabulary and offer to speak on ways they can increase their understanding and interact respectfully with the trans community.

 — Publicize your community center, church, or faith community as safe space for the trans community to meet, worship, strategize and be at home.

 — Proactively welcome the trans community into full participation at every level in your community organizations and faith communities. 

 The truth is this: From the Stonewall Rebellion to the marches in the streets of Naz, India today, trans people have been and continue to be at the forefront of a global movement for human liberation, based solely on the belief that we are all the beloved children of God and all our lives are to be equally reverenced and equally respected.  

 May that singular belief be at the heart of our commemorations this International Trans Day of Remembrance.

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