On Tuesday, November 19th, Collective Action for Safe Spaces (CASS) joined hundreds of community members at the International Transgender Day of Remembrance vigil, held at the Metropolitan Community Church of DC in NW. Transgender Day of Remembrance was founded in 1998 by Gwendolyn Ann Smith — a transgender graphic designer, columnist, and activist — to memorialize the murder of Rita Hester in Allston, Massachusetts. Nearly 15 years later, the day has burgeoned from a web-based project into an international day of action.
The standing-room only crowd heard from friends and family of murdered transgender people on the many things they loved and missed about their loved ones. Speakers also called upon attendees to celebrate survivors and take action to foster safety and understanding for transgender folks.
Mayor Gray, who received an award for his administration’s focus on improving the lives of transgender people in the District, emphasized that his mantra of “One City” meant that all were welcome in DC. This fall, he presided over the debut of a PSA series on Metro trains and bus shelters that aims “to increase understanding of transgender and gender non-conforming people, reduce incidents of discrimination and increase reporting [of such incidents].” Lisa Mallory, Director of the DC Department of Employment Services, also received an award for starting Project Empowerment, a job training program for DC trans residents. Programs such as Project Empower are a vital part of ensuring economic justice for trans folks, over 27 percent of whom reported annual incomes below $20,000 in a national survey.
Transgender people experience violence at far higher rates than the general population. According to one study, about 50 percent of trans people report unwanted sexual activity, including sexual assault and rape. In a national survey, 97 percent of transgender respondents reported experiencing mistreatment, harassment, or discrimination at their place of work. According to Holly Kearl of Stop Street Harassment, trans individuals also face some of the most vicious forms of street harassment, including murder.
Just days after Transgender Day of Remembrance, The New York Times devoted lengthy coverage to the rise in antigay crimes in the District. According to NYT, through October of this year, DC police recorded 51 hate crimes against gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender residents, just short of the record 53 for all of 2011. In November 2011, DC police began posting monthly statistics on hate crimes after advocates raised concerns that police weren’t doing enough to protect the trans community. It is encouraging to see so many members of the DC city administration and of the community at large come together to grieve the people who were lost, and promise to do better in the future. The fight to end street harassment is also a fight to ensure that public spaces are safe for everyone, including those who do not conform to binary gender norms.