Monday's events will give the transgender community an opportunity to come together, remember, and uplift.
Ryan Persaud | November 17, 2017
Trans Day of Remembrance (TDoR) will be commemorated on Monday, November 20 with two different ceremonies taking place around Richmond that evening. TDoR is a day that honors the lives of transgender individuals who have been killed as a result of anti-transgender violence.
The event started after the murder of Rita Hester in November of 1998 inspired the “Remembering Our Dead” web project, and a candlelight vigil in San Francisco the following year. Since then, TDoR has been a way for members of the LGBTQ community to come together and remember the lives that have been lost due to transphobic violence.
Although it has origins in the late 90s, Richmond didn’t observe Transgender Day of Remembrance until 2007. Kenneth Decker, an organizer who originally created the Richmond event, moved to the area in 2006. He soon realized that Richmond had no local TDoR observance, and during the city’s 2006 Pride festival, started organizing a steering committee that would be in charge of creating a TDoR event for the following year.
This year’s edition of the event started by that steering committee is being held at Diversity Richmond on Monday at 7pm, and honors trans people who have been killed during the past year by reading their names, listing the country they lived in, and either lighting or blowing out a candle in their memory. The names of the victims closest to the Richmond area will be read first in order to give the event a more local focus, Decker said.
“Although the day of remembrance is an international event, it’s really on the local and state level that we have influence that could help produce change,” Decker said. “It’s here that we work, vote, and we can influence legislation to help to bring an end to the need of the day of remembrance, which is ultimately our goal.”
Keri Abrams, who has been involved with organizing the event in the past and is making the closing remarks for this year’s event, said that TDoR is important for unifying the transgender community.
“It’s for us,” Abrams said. “Everybody understands what it is, what it’s about, why we do this. It helps to show the unity of the community when trans people are involved in the ceremony.”
The goal of Diversity Richmond’s TDoR event is to work towards a future where a Trans Day of Remembrance doesn’t have to exist, influencing legislators and educating law enforcement personnel along the way, according to Decker.
“To me, the whole day is about putting itself out of business,” Decker said. “We want to bring an end to the need for the Transgender Day of Remembrance, and we’ve always pushed beyond simply doing a memorial service to bring in people to influence legislators and law enforcement personnel, those who can bring about the change that’s needed so that these deaths will no longer occur.”
LGBTQ liaisons from the Richmond Police Department are going to be present at Diversity Richmond’s TDoR event to ensure that the space is safe for its attendees, according to Abrams. However, there are people who object to this decision, and have decided to create a separate Trans Day of Remembrance event as a result. Trans Day of Remembrance and Resilience (TDoRR) is an event organized by Nationz, The Virginia Anti-Violence Project, and other volunteers. It is being held at the Richmond Public Library at 6pm, starting an hour before the Diversity Richmond event.
Ted Heck, head of the group TransFormers and one of the organizers of the event, cited the experiences that people of color have had with police as one reason why the event was created.
“There are a lot of members of our community that are really uncomfortable with police,” Heck said. “There’s a long history of well-documented oppression by police, and that is often most targeted towards members of communities of color within the LGBTQ community.”
Although police presence is discouraged, officers are welcome to join as long as they don’t attend in uniform, Heck said. “We wouldn’t object to law enforcement attending if they were so led, but we would want them to not come in uniform,” Heck said. “Anyone is welcome to attend, and it’s a matter of having some understanding of people’s needs, as far as their prior experiences and trauma.”
Abrams, however, has been involved with the Richmond Police Department’s LGBTQ liaisons, and said that while she understands why people might be uncomfortable with police presence, it is necessary to ensure the safety of attendees.
“I was very heavily involved in getting the LGBTQ liaison officers that we have with all of the law enforcement jurisdictions in Richmond and around Richmond’s Sheriff’s departments,” Keri Abrams said. “Virtually every single one of them has had incidences to where the liaison officer got involved and took it as far to the fruition and the resolve of it as they could, where without the liaison officer for those circumstances, I don’t know what would have happened.”
Zakia McKensey, Transgender Community Advocate for the Virginia Anti-Violence Project, said that she felt unheard by the planning committee of the Diversity Richmond event, and wanted to form an event that was run by people of color, who are more susceptible to violence.
“Trying to be a part of previous planning for TDoR, the planning committee is moreso dominated by individuals who are not people of color,” McKensey said. “When different ideas were brought to the planning committee about ways to not only remember those individuals that were lost, but to highlight the beauty of our community, those things weren’t heard.”
In addition, this event will have more of a focus on celebrating the strength of the transgender community, McKensey said.
“We wanted to do something a little different than the normal TDoR by also honoring the resiliency of the transgender community and the individuals who are still with us now,” McKensey said. “And not making the event so morbid and depressing by celebrating those lives that were lost, and also uplifting ones that are still with us.”
Despite the fact that there are two events, McKensey encourages people to attend both of them.
“We encourage people to make sure that they support both [events],” McKensey said. “It’s not about trying to separate, it’s just about making sure that everyone is included, and everyone’s voice is brought to the table.”
McKensey said that it is important to observe the Transgender Day of Remembrance because the community, while incredibly strong, is still vulnerable.
“As an African American transgender woman, I think it is extremely important to tap into and commemorate those lives because we are greatly impacted by violence,” McKensey said. “We still are discriminated against greatly, we’re impacted by so many different barriers, and to remember these individuals, as well as celebrating the strength of our community, is extremely important.”
The Transgender Day Of Remembrance ceremony at Diversity Richmond, located at 1407 Sherwood Ave, will take place beginning at 7 PM on Monday, November 20. A reception will follow the ceremony. Click here for more info.
The Transgender Day Of Resilience & Remembrance at the Richmond Public Library, located at 101 E. Franklin St, will take place beginning at 6 PM on Monday. Light refreshments will be available. Click here for more info.
Photos by Brad Kutner, from GayRVA archive