By: Casey Rocheteau/TRT Reporter
In Rhode Island, the TGI Network and Youth Pride Incorporated (YPI) came together to hold a vigil and discussion for the Day of Remembrance in the Bell Street Chapel on Nov. 20. Fifty to 60 people were in attendance for the ceremony, which included speakers and a reading of the names of 23 transpeople who were victims of fatal violence over the past year. In the front of the room, candles had been lit representing each of their lives, and as their names and causes of death were read, each flame was snuffed out. At the end of the ceremony, those congregated lit their own candles from a single flame and sang “We Are a Gentle, Angry People” by Holly Near.
The Transgender Day of Remembrance can be seen as a day of mourning as well as a celebration of authenticity. The first TDOR was held in San Francisco in 1999 to recognize the loss of Rita Hesler, a transwoman whose murderer has never been brought to justice. According to Jaye Watts, the direct services coordinator at YPI, there had been events held in Rhode Island during the early years that had dissolved up until 2008, when they were resumed. Kim Stowell, managing editor of Options Newsmagazine, added that 2008 was also the year when “the murder of Angie Zapata led to the first time anyone was convicted of a hate crime against a transperson.”
Trevor Beard, the director of TGI, which is “the only statewide organization providing support and advocacy for the TGI (transgender, gender-variant, intersex) community in RI and surrounding areas,” spoke to the issue of hate crimes legislation. Beard stated that “Rhode Island already has protections for the trans community under the nondiscrimination laws. However, we have been fighting for the past few years to get gender identity and expression added to the hate crimes monitoring laws, as there are no statistics on how many crimes are committed against the transgender community here in Rhode Island.” This was an issue that came out again during the panel discussion following the vigil. Watts pointed out that while Marriage Equality Rhode Island drummed up lines outside of the statehouse, hearings on the hate crimes bill would bring out small handfuls of people. The distinction was made between a couple’s right to marry, and an individual’s right to their own life and safety.
When asked about the passage of the Trans Equal Rights Bill in neighboring Massachusetts, Watts extended a heartfelt congratulations to the Mass Transgender Political Coalition and their allies, and pointed to the current issue in Rhode Island. While Rhode Island has had trans-inclusive nondiscrimination laws since 2001, “under the Carcieri administration, hate crimes monitoring bills made it to the governor twice and were vetoed. We look forward to the Rhode Island general assembly addressing this bill in their 2012 session and hope that we can soon join Massachusetts with a comprehensive hate crimes law that addresses penalties as well as monitoring.” One of the key pieces of monitoring would be to train law enforcement officers to be able to recognize a hate crime.
Providence’s TDOR highlighted stories from several youth while the discussion also made it clear that such violence toward the community sent a message to other transpeople. When asked what she thought was the most pressing issue facing transgender youth today, Kim Stowell said, “Bullying is unquestionably the toughest thing trans youth face.” Watts added, “I think the most pressing issue is parental support and acceptance. I think this is a cornerstone of the foundation of care, services and advocacy that can make all the difference for a young trans person.”
Both Watts and Beard agreed that culturally competent health care and social service providers were also essential. The panel discussion included one trans-friendly pediatrician, who was one of very few in the state.
During the discussion, someone in the audience put a question in about the “TLBG” community, flipping the acronym to put the “T” first, which spoke to the level at which people in the room were dedicated to this community.
Kim Stowell, speaking on being an ally, put it this way: “The Transgender Day of Remembrance is an event that everyone should attend. It is horrifyingly tragic to hear the details recounted of the deaths of these innocent people. The LGB community needs to put some energy behind supporting their trans brothers and sisters.” While the TDOR provides a yearly opportunity to do so, the fight for legislation and equal rights continues throughout the year.