Grand Divisions

Tennessee Equality Project seeks to advance and protect the civil rights of our State’s gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender persons and their families in each Grand Division.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Memphis remembers transgender brothers and sisters while seeking to educate

Tennesee Equality Project's Shelby County Steering Committee, in partnership with Perpetual Transition, is pleased to invite you to a week of moving, informative, and exciting events which will help us all learn about transgender people and gender expression in safe environments. Please join us for all of these free, deeply moving, and informative sessions and expand your heart with information and understanding. The not to be missed events:

Tuesday, November 13 - "Documenting a Journey: FTM Transition on YouTube." 6:30 p.m. Memphis Gay and Lesbian Community Center, 892 South Cooper Street. 

Thursday, November 15 - "Papers Please: A workshop on identity documentation focusing on passports" 6:30 - MGLCC

Saturday, November 17 - Transvision: Express Yourself seminar - sessions of learning opportunities and experiences designed to increase information and understanding accross the GLBT and ally community. 9:00 to 2:30 - lunch included - First Congregational Church, 1000 South Cooper Street.

Perpetual Transition held an early Transgender Day of Remembrance on Sunday, November 11 at First Congregational Church. Group leader Casey Lanham gave a moving presentation during this service. His remarks are reprinted here with permission:

Good evening, and welcome to the Transgender Day Of Remembrance. I am Casey Lanham, a co-founder and current co-facilitator of Perpetual Transition, a local transgender support group which hosts this service every year. Before we begin tonight’s service by setting a more meditative tone, I would first like to share with you the history and mission of TDOR.
TDOR is an annual candlelight vigil held for transgender and gender non-conforming victims of violence. It developed from the Remembering Our Dead web project, both of which were founded by the San Francisco trans activist, Gwen Smith, in 1999. TDOR is held every November to honor Rita Hester, a daughter, a sister, and a friend to many who was murdered in an especially violent way by an unknown attacker in her apartment in November 1998. To date, like most anti-trans murders, hers has never been solved.
Rita Hester, from Allston, MA, was well liked and admired in her community. And community is not reducible to the fact that she was transgender, or that she was African-American, or that she was 34 years old, or that she was from around Boston. All of those things about her are true, but she, like everyone else on this list, was so much more than that. Rita was musical and is described as having a beautiful, lilting voice. She was active in Boston’s rock and roll scene, where she played paid gigs, and was known to command attention when she was present. In both transgender and music communities, Rita was popular, kind, and outgoing. Her mother, her siblings, and several of her friends, among the almost 250 supporters who came to the first TDOR vigil in honor of her, said that it didn’t matter how rotten your day had been. If Rita was around, her bubbly demeanor and lively smile would lift you straight out of whatever foul mood had taken over you. That is why her murder shook her community so hard. Who would have wanted to hurt someone like her? The pain of losing Rita so suddenly was complicated further by the way her tragic death was covered by the media. Although she lived her life and was treated by others as a woman, the news used male pronouns, a name that did not represent who she was, and called her a transvestite, a word she did not use to identify herself. They claimed she was living a “double life” by being a woman, but that is not what people who loved and knew her best said. We who are here in this room know that she was just being who she was, and that was misunderstood by people who couldn’t accept her as the woman she knew herself to be. Finally, they emphasized the fact that Rita had been doing sex work, which compounded the myths of a double life, but what they did not tell people was the reality of her situation. While they wasted no time in labeling her a prostitute, they paid no attention to why she was doing sex work out of economic necessity. She was doing it to survive, and because she had been pushed out of more conventional work. Like many of the people in this room tonight, she applied for job after job after job, only to be denied each time. Even her winning smile couldn’t win over a potential employer. No one, even in relatively progressive Massachusetts, wanted to hire a transgender woman, particularly a transgender woman who was African American. If Rita wasn’t being misrepresented or maligned, she was being ignored. She was murdered a month after Matthew Shepard and was quickly overlooked as the news outlets focused their attention toward the otherwise unremarkable little town of Laramie, WY. While we all mourn the loss of Matthew and honor his memory, and while we would never ask that he be forgotten or relegated to a lesser memory, our mission is to remind people who Rita, and all other people whose names we read tonight, were and what injustices happened to them. When people remember Matthew Shepard, we want names like those of our fellow Memphians to also be remembered: Duanna Johnson, Ebony Whitaker, Tiffany Berry, Michelle Hays, John Prowett. We want those who would otherwise be forgotten to be remembered, their lives celebrated. We want to honor their memories, to acknowledge them for who they were. We remember the inner strength that people had, people like Duanna, who refused to be degraded by police officers who called her homophobic and transphobic slurs and beat her for not answering to those words. Duanna, who was normally soft-spoken and laidback in spite of her height and her appearance, said no more and stood up against institutional violence to claim her worth and dignity as a human being. And that is our goal for TDOR.
Pfc. Barry Winchell
We also remember our loved ones who did not identify as transgender, but who suffered gender-based violence and who were mistreated, maimed, and murdered because of their association with us: people like Pfc. Barry Winchell, someone to be doubly remembered this Veterans Days, who was killed because fellow soldiers incorrectly thought he was gay for being in a relationship with Calpernia Addams, a heterosexual woman who is transgender. We acknowledge the interrelation of our struggles: violence is systemic, and racism, sexism, classism, heterosexism, ableism, and cissexism are all tied together. They are different heads of the same hydra.  

We also remember people who suffered indirectly from anti-trans violence. We remember Dre’Ona Blake, a little Memphis girl who died after being beaten to death by her father, D’Andre Blake, who 2 years earlier bragged to friends and had the gall to confess to police that he murdered Tiffany Berry, a 21 year-old trans woman living in South Memphis. He was released on a $20,000 bond, when bond for murder in Tennessee is normally closer to $100,000, and he has still never been charged, tried for, or done time for killing Tiffany. He was allowed to walk free for 2 years, until he turned his violence on his own daughter. We dare to ask, “Would Dre’Ona be celebrating her 6th birthday this year if her father had been held accountable in the first place for murdering Tiffany, an innocent woman, someone who just happened to be transgender?”   When asked why he killed her, he claimed that he didn’t like the way “it” touched him. It. Sit with that for a minute. It. It. A thing. Non-human. Disposable. Expendable. That is also what Allen Andrade said to police when he beat 18 year-old Angie Zapata, who was trans, to death after they had gone on a date. “I killed it.” Gwen Araujo’s murderers deemed her an “it” when they decided she had been “deceptive” by supposedly not being truthful about who she was. But again, we know that she was being exactly who she was, and given the particularly violent reactions these men had, can you really blame her for not wanting to have that be the very first thing she shared about herself? It. That is how transgender people, especially transgender women of color, and especially those living in poverty or experiencing homelessness, are viewed. Seen as deserving of the lot they receive in life, they die violently, without being memorialized, and continue to be mocked after death. Today we are here to correct that, to stand in stark contrast to the injustice, to the apathy, to the cynicism, and, most importantly of all, to the silence that surrounds this. That is our mission. That is our duty as a community. I’ve spoken at length about remembrance. Indeed, it’s in the title of this event. But what does it mean to remember? How do we go about mourning anyone, let alone hundreds of people from many decades and from around the world who we have never met? We recall that as we hear the over 700 names read tonight, and as we recall that there are many more we have never heard of, each one of them belonged to a person with memories, experiences, stories to tell, and humanity and connections to share. We celebrate the importance of family and friends, of support, love, and community, and how they are the nourishment that sustains each of us. TDOR is not just once a year. We don’t just show up to these services, promise to never forget, and then conveniently let it slip from memory until next November when you receive a call from me to participate in this event again. Today lives with us throughout the year precisely because we cannot afford to forget. Today we commit ourselves to remembering our siblings in community. We set aside this day to hold their names up and breathe a bit of life into them again. It is a day of contemplation, commemoration, and support, where we hold onto some small memory, even if it is only a name or a footnote in the paper, so that they will not be erased as completely as their killers, the media, or institutions would have them. We bring attention to the violence directed against us in epidemic proportions, the silence when it happens, and most importantly, to our dedication and responsibility toward one another. We care, and we are here to show it. I would like to leave you tonight with thoughts from Primo Levi. Levi, a survivor of Auschwitz, wrote many books detailing and analyzing his experiences in the extermination camp. In his book, The Drowned and the Saved, he wrote about the fallibility of memory and the paradoxical necessity of witnessing. He talked about the drowned, those who died in the camps, and the saved, those who survived. Levi maintained that telling the story of the drowned is not completely possible because it is only they who could provide the fullest witness to the horrors of what Auschwitz was, and since they did not survive, they are unable to tell their stories. It is therefore the obligation of the saved, Levi says, to be those witnesses since the drowned are no longer with us. He reminds us of the importance of witnessing to things we otherwise find unpleasant: “It is neither easy nor agreeable to dredge this abyss of viciousness, and yet I think it must be done, because what could be perpetrated yesterday could be attempted again tomorrow, could overwhelm us and our children. One is tempted to turn away with a grimace and close one's mind: this is a temptation one must resist.” And that is the goal of TDOR. It is solemn, and it is mournful, but it endows us with the courage to carry on, to keep memories alive, and to recommit ourselves to one another as a community. Levi said it best: “The aims of life are the best defense against death.”

No comments: