Remembering victims of anti-trans violence

November 19, 2010
by Kara Suffredini
BOSTON-Brandon Teena. Rita Hester. Roy Antonio Jones III. Nakia Ladelle Baker. Ruby Rodriguez. On average, at least one transgender person is murdered every month in the United States. We know some of the names and some of their stories, but so many others remain unknown.
Hester’s brutal murder in Allston on November 28, 1998, and the media’s cruel, mocking
coverage of her life sparked outrage in the transgender and queer communities of Boston. A week after her death, mourners organized a candlelight vigil to honor her. That event inspired a web-based “Remembering Our Dead” project and a national Transgender Day of Remembrance. Since 1999, the Transgender Day of Remembrance has been held every November across the country around the anniversary of Hester’s murder, which remains unsolved.

Today, November 19, Transgender Days of Remembrance will be held in Williamstown (at the Williams College Paresky Center from 7 to 8 p.m.); in Springfield (at 7 p.m. at 3300 Main St.); in Worcester (at 6:30 p.m. at the Hilton Garden Inn, 35 Major Taylor Boulevard); and in Winchester (at 7:30 p.m. at Temple Shir Tikvah, 34 Vine Street where Taan Shapiro will talk about the book of Isaiah views a person who is transgender). Tomorrow, on November 20, Boston’s annual Day of Remembrance will be held at 6 p.m. at the Cathedral of St Paul, 138 Tremont St (at Park St T stop).

These ceremonies are an opportunity to remember the precious lives we’ve lost to prejudice and violence. It’s also a time to reflect on our role as a community and as individuals in creating safer communities, schools, workplaces and places of worship for all who frequent them.

Anti-trans violence is rooted in ignorance and fear. Public education efforts like the Massachusetts Transgender Political Coalition’s “I Am: Trans People Speak” project show transgender men and women talking about their lives, and their connections with family and community. It will do much to lessen the fear and the callous devaluation of human life that can lead to violence.

But it’s not enough.

Massachusetts showed national leadership in 1999 by catalyzing the creation of the Transgender Day of Remembrance following Hester’s murder. Today, nearing the end of 2010, it’s high time for Massachusetts to seize the opportunity to show leadership again by finally passing legislation that makes clear that here in Massachusetts we value all of our residents.

Currently, transgender residents of Massachusetts are being fired from their jobs, denied housing, and even denied service in restaurants simply because of their gender identity or gender expression. If that seems unbelievable, check out these hard numbers. A 2009 nationwide survey of 6,450 transgender men and women by the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force found that one in four had lost their jobs because they are transgender; 97 percent reported that they had been harassed while working; and they experience unemployment at twice the rate of the population as a whole. And as a result of job loss and insecurity, transgender people experience poverty, homelessness, and decreased access to health care at rates much higher than the average population.

A July 2009 report by the Massachusetts Department of Public Health found that only 92.3 percent of transgender residents have health insurance, compared with 97 percent of all state residents. And 17.3 percent of transgender residents report that they do not have a personal doctor. The report concludes: “Support of non-discrimination protection for transgender persons could help reduce stigma and by extension, improve health.” Indeed.

Massachusetts finally including transgender people in its hate crime and nondiscrimination laws would send an unequivocal message that transgender people deserve the same basic respect, opportunities to thrive, and freedom from violence as any other Massachusetts resident. Freedom from discrimination and violence is not a lot to ask in this great state of Massachusetts. But it would go such a long way in modeling for our communities, our companies, and our youth-who, frankly, are harassing each other to death-how we should be aspiring to treat each other.

No one wants to believe that discrimination and violence happens. But it does.

We can do something about it by passing in the next legislative session a bill that would provide basic nondiscrimination and hate crimes protections to transgender residents of the Commonwealth.

Let’s get it done.

Kara Suffredini is the Executive Director of MassEquality.

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