The Transgender Day of Remembrance was set aside to memorialize those who were killed due to anti-transgender hatred or prejudice. The event is held in November to honor Rita Hester, whose murder on November 28th, 1998 kicked off the “Remembering Our Dead” web project and a San Francisco candlelight vigil in 1999. Rita Hester’s murder — like most anti-transgender murder cases — has yet to be solved.
Bruce Parker's Thoughts......
_ I want to tell you a little bit more about one of the last names on the list of names you will hear tonight. The details of this story were covered in an online news story on November 11. Shelley Hilliard had been missing for a week. They had finally found her the night before. Well they found her burned torso in a dumpster in Detroit. Her mother had to identify her based on a tattoo she had on her torso. The story also included this information. A cab driver who Shelley often relied on for rides dropped her off at home on the night of October 23. The cab driver says that there were three men waiting for Hilliard and that after just a couple minutes Shelley called the driver back and he heard her say, "what are you doing,' then scream out loud 'no,' then she dropped the phone. he heard some muffled noises, then the phone when dead... By the time he got back around the corner, there was no one in sight." Then they found her torso. The story is very specific. They didn't find her body, they couldn't recognize her by her head. They found her burned torso and her mother had to identify her based on a tattoo.
Tonight while we mourn the lose of Shelley Hilliard and of too many other mothers, daughters, and sisters - fathers, sons, and brothers - colleagues, friends and neighbors - activists and significant others we once again bear witness to the terrible price of ignorance, and inaction, and complacency. Tonight while we mourn remember that these are only the names we know about.
I know that some people think that these events shouldn't be political, but I don't understand that. That doesn't make any sense to me. How can you hear about Shelley Hilliard's mother having to identify her daughter based on a tattoo on her torso and not get angry. What does it say about us as human beings that this story doesn't drive us to action? Yes, we must take time to remember those we have lost and to mourn the ways that the loss of their lives is not only tragic for them, but also tragic for all of us. It is undeniable that we are all diminished by the the loss of the people whose names we will read tonight. We must bear witness, but we cannot for one minute think that bearing witness is enough. It isn't enough. It will never be enough.
Last year I stood during this event and said to the people in attendance that if they left the event that night and didn't dedicate themselves to fighting the ignorance and hatred that leads to the violent slaying of transgender men and women at unconscionable rates that the event was a waste of time. Last year I stood in front of this event and called for lesbian, gay, and bisexual activists as well as their allies across Louisiana to come together and realize that their inaction on transgender equality and transgender inclusion has a terrible price. Anyone who says that the price is worth paying or that the price is the necessary cost of gaining equality for some of us is lying. It is a lie that we have to set aside the well-being of some members of our community to improve the lives of other members.
Tonight, we have some things to be proud of here in Louisiana. One year ago the landscape around transgender issues in the activist and lgbtq community looked entirely different than it does today. Local organizations like Capital City Alliance, Business Partners in Pride, Baton Rouge PFLAG, and Spectrum at LSU have said that they will settle for nothing less than improving the lives of EVERY SINGLE member of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender community. A coalition of 23 organizations have united under the banner of Equality Louisiana and one of the three primary organizing principle of this group of college, local, regional and statewide groups is a commitment to full transgender inclusion.
The thing to be most proud of is the existence of Louisiana Trans Advocates. For the first time we have a statewide organization of transgender men and women, genderqueers, significant others, friends, families, allies, and advocates that is providing support to members of the transgender community. There are monthly social support meetings that are very well attended, a board of directors who are building this organization across the state and three cities - Baton Rouge, New Orleans, and Shreveport - where we are becoming an increasing vocal presence for full transgender equality and inclusion. The people who have been saying that transgender people need to get their act together and advocate for themselves if they want a seat at the table no longer have that tired and offensive excuse to fall back on anymore. We no longer need a seat at their table. We have built our own and it is big enough for anyone who is willing to commit to do the right thing and fight for the lives of every single one of us.
There are still people and organizations in this state who think that the rights and lives of some members of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender community aren't worth standing up for. They are wrong and we know that they are wrong. What I can say tonight that I couldn't say last year is that those voices are becoming increasingly marginalized and that those voices no longer provide the only organized statewide voice for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and finally transgender equality. We are doing a little better
I want you to look around at each other and think about why we are all here. We are lucky tonight to have an amazingly strong Baton Rouge PFLAG chapter cosponsoring this event. PFLAG teaches us to think about others and care for each other. PFLAG provides a family for many LGBT people and the parents, friends, family members, and allies. For a moment when we are sitting and hearing the names of the transgender people who we have lost in the last few years and letting that loss wash over us I want you to imagine that your son or daughter, your mother or father, your best friend or your partners name is on that list. You need to realize that this can happen to you or to people you care about or to someone who is sitting beside you right now.
I have two final things to share with you tonight. First, I work at Lousiana State University with LGBTQ students. Through my job I talk with students about personal, family, mental health, and academic issues. I have been doing this for four years and I love those kids more ferociously than I ever thought possible. I was devastated to learn last Christmas that one of my students, a young transgender man, tried to kill himself. He took a knife to his wrist and arm and cut because he was lonely and he was isolated and he felt terrible and he couldn't imagine how it could ever get better. Thankfully, somehow he survived, but I spend a lot of sleepless nights thinking that I should have done more for him. I would encourage you to leave here tonight dedicated to doing more to take care of yourselves and each other because you don't want to have to tell yourself that you should have done more after someone is already gone. After another name is added to the list.
Second, I am asking you to help me. My best friend here in Baton Rouge and my partner both identify as transgender. These are the people with whom I currently spend the hours and days of my life. I watch movies with them. I play video games with them. I cook and talk and have coffee and plan and laugh with them. One of them makes me smile in ways that I never expected and that I am still trying to figure that out. The other has decided to spend a year of his life working with me every day to make Louisiana State University, Baton Rouge, and Louisiana a better place for everyone to live by trying to make things better for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender people. These two people have decided to spend a year with me and I am lucky and my biggest fear is losing them. I live with the fear everyday that their families, friends, strangers, and the world will reject them to the point that they simple cannot imagine going on. I live with the fear that all it would take is one ignorant person deciding that not conforming to society's idea of what it means to be a man or a woman is punishable by death to take them away from me for good. These two young people are going to make the world a better place for people and you and I have a responsibility to make the world a better place for them and all the others like them.
Transgender Day of Remembrance is not simply about doing the right thing for me. It is profoundly personal and I am asking you to leave here today committed to making the list of names of those who are slain in 2012 shorter than the list of those that were slain in 2011. I am asking you to commit to making this event be about remembering a time when being transgender was punishable by death and not about updating a list each year with people who continue to die because people like me and you don't do enough to help them. My mother taught me that you don't walk by and watch someone being beaten or being victimized you stop and help them. I am asking you to not only think about this once a year, but to see what is happening around you and to stop and help. Get involved in one of the amazing organizations that work for transgender equality or that are deeply committed to working for the entire lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community. If you can't get involved donate money to these organizations. I am begging you to do something and not to sit idly by and watch as people are massacred around you.
_ I’m standing up here because I’m supposed to tell all of you why Transgender Day of Remembrance is important. When I sat down to think about what I would say, I decided that I would play to my strengths and use poetry to answer the question of why this event is important. This is a poem that I compiled from several sources, including a poem entitled “Day of Remembrance” by S. Bear Bergman, a poem entitled “Do Not Go Gentle into That Good Night” by Dylan Thomas, a prayer written for Day of Remembrance by Reuben Zellman, a quote from Dean Spade, and some of my own writing.
I’m scrolling and scrolling,
names on my screen keep rolling,
more than I expected to see, hundreds,
They are more than words forced
onto the page, letters attacking other letters,
just as violent as what they describe.
This moment in which they are
trapped is a series of lines
that should have never been put together.
too many to count quickly, too many to die so early,
one day before they would have is too early, outrageous,
sentenced to death for being courageous,
We remember those who have died because
they would not hide,
or did not pass,
or did pass,
or stood too proud.
As many as we can name,
there are thousands more
whom we cannot.
living out loud in an age such as this, where every border’s guarded
and marked with gendered piss, this
here is only for us, only for you, what is it mommy?
not now honey, that’s rude — why is it rude? that’s a bad attitude,
that’s what you’ll do? Parents, that’s unworthy of you,
Words can never hurt me?
Each of them is still here
Like a scar
My body is marked
By every word thrown at me
They inscribe their roles
Handed down to our bodies
By the institution
To contain us
To tame us
if something’s unusual, let children know what’s different,
buy him a tutu - let that be the end of it, let them grow
unencumbered by expectation, there’s all kinds of situations,
gender, race, ethnic variations, none of them cut or dried,
We call to mind today young and old,
of every race, faith, and gender experience,
who have died by violence.
And as we remember them, we remember
with them the thousands more who have taken their own lives.
cause otherwise, we get “boys don’t cry”,
we tell our boys not to cry, they swallow the tears, the fears,
they erode every other feeling until it explodes,
looking like Gwen in a shallow grave by the road,
like Marsha being fished out whole,
looking like Brandon full of anger’s holes. We won’t accept this,
the idea is ludicrous, you want to kill a kid
because he wants to wear a dress?
We will not go gently, not into any night or memory,
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.
we’re here today to remember our family, taken too early,
We mourn their senseless deaths, and give thanks
for their lives, for their teaching, and for the brief glow.
I hope they come back to haunt their killers fully,
inhabit their uncertainty, give them their own inescapable
enemy, and for those of us still alive, stand up!
stand up and shout,
stand up and be what it’s about,
be the change you want to see in the world,
live like a flag unfurled,
I refuse to let them define my body
I can see myself
Without the use of their mirrored eyes
I mark my own skin, flesh, and bones
With these words
Let’s be gentle with ourselves and others
and fierce as we fight oppression.
today we are here to remember, today we are peaceful
in honor, today we are heard together,
Today we name them: the reluctant activist; the fiery hurler
of heels; the warrior for quiet truth;
the one whom no one really knew.
but tomorrow this event’s a lesson to miscreants, anyone with ill intent,
our spirit unbreakable, a lot at stake,
our numbers unmistakable, proclaiming,
I’m here with my tribe,
this family’s my wealth,
and I would die with them
before I would live by myself.
_The Transgender Day of Remembrance serves several purposes. It raises public awareness of hate crimes against transgender people, an action that current media doesn’t perform. Day of Remembrance publicly mourns and honors the lives of our brothers and sisters who might otherwise be forgotten. Through the vigil, we express love and respect for our people in the face of national indifference and hatred. Day of Remembrance reminds non-transgender people that we are their sons, daughters, parents, friends and lovers. Day of Remembrance gives our allies a chance to step forward with us and stand in vigil, memorializing those of us who’ve died by anti-transgender violence.