Hundreds attend Richmond Transgender Day of Remembrance 2015
Richmond’s 2015 Transgender Day of Remembrance was standing room only Friday night, as hundreds of local residents came out to show support for those who lost their lives to transphobic violence in the last year.
“Barriers still exists that must be overcome,” said Keri Abrams (pictured below), lead organizer for this year’s TDoR. “But it is comforting to know some of these barriers are coming down in our city and the surrounding areas. That is our light of hope, and the message we want you to leave with tonight.”
This message of hope is hard to find at an annual event where names of those who were murdered are read allow before an affected audience. But despite the sorrow usually associated with the event, lighter points stood out to show how the Richmond LGBTQ community has grown more accepting.
“If you have ever felt excluded here, we’re very sorry. But that was then, and this is now,” said Bill Harrison, Executive Director of Diversity Richmond, the local LGBTQ community center where TDoR was held this year. Harrison spoke about how, until this year, Diversity had been perceived as less inclusive over its former name – The Gay Community Center of Richmond.
But after much deliberation, the volunteer board of directors, spurred by local activist and board member Beth Marshack, changed the orgs name to its now more inclusive title.
“As our community grew, and we grew as individuals, we realized that [Gay Community Center] was exclusive and not inclusive,” said Harrison. “I’m sure there’s nobody here tonight who doesn’t know what it feels like to be excluded, and there’s enough of that going on out there. So when we find it going on in our community its very wrong.”
While hitting a serious point, Harrison ended on a more light hearted note, suggesting the change in name doesn’t leave anyone out of the fight for equality. “To our transgender brothers and sisters here, I’m telling you, whether you like it or not, you’re stuck with the gays, the lesbians, the bisexuals… we’re all in this together.”
The next speaker, Kenneth Coleman (pictured below), went into detail about the history of the TDoR event. He spoke of the loss of his own lover to a hate crime in the late 90′s, the murder of Matthew Shepard, and finally the murder of Rita Hestor which lead to the first TDoR event in San Francisco. “[Hester's] murder went virtually unnoticed, except, thankfully, for a small group of her friends, realizing the unfairness and disparity of media coverage, gathered together to remember a friend lost to them through unbridle violence,” Coleman said.
Hester’s gathering drew hundreds of people, and the following year, 11/20/99, the first international TDOR event was held. RVA’s own TDOR history started in 2007 and was hosted at the LGBTQ youth support organization ROSMY. The Richmond event moved seven times, from local churches to secular spots like the Byrd Theatre.
Three trees have been planted to honor TDoR, one of which remains on the Diversity Richmond campus. Local leaders, City Council members, and even national and federal groups have since sent their support for the RVA event.
This year, City Council sent a proclamation supporting the event, as did President Obama.
After this many years, and the high number in attendance last night, Coleman said he was proud to see more folks on TDoR’s steering committee than had attended that first year.
Coleman stressed the goal of every TDoR event, above all the important history associated with the night – the awareness that trans lives exists and what can be done to stop the violence.
“The most important statistic remains un-tallied,” he said. “That first full year when no deaths have occurred and we join together in celebration of that an in anticipation of a future in which no one ever need living openly, honestly, and with integrity.”
In keeping with TDoR tradition, volunteers then read some of the names of those who were murdered in the last year and blew out candles to symbolize their passing. Among the list were several Virginia names, including Lamia Beard, who was murdered in Norfolk this year, and Sage Smith, a Charlottesville trans-woman who’s been missing since 2012.
Local man Jonah Neff helped close out the nights events with a poem reading, A Thing of Beauty is a Joy Forever.
An object of beauty is a joy forever
Its loveliness increases
It will never pass into nothingness, but still will keep
“As with ever person we’ve lost in the trans community, we must keep their memory alive. Because their beauty is a joy forever, their loveliness increases,” said Neff (pictured below). “They were beautiful people and they were beautiful for who they were. Therefor, they will never pass into nothingness… our friends may have passed from this Earth, but never will they be forgotten.”
A small reception followed the event.
Representatives from three local police departments, including Chesterfield County Police and Henrico County Police, were present for Friday’s event. Current Richmond Police Chief Alfred Durham arrived early and spoke some about his experience with the LGBTQ community during his time working in DC’s Metro Police department.
“I’m always involved in the community, I think TDOR is very important,” he said. “We’re talking about lives, yea know? all lives matter.” He said he was glad to be present as Chief of Richmond police, and experience the event for the first time in that role. “I’m here to support the community,” he said.
“Too many transgender people are abused, are beaten and ultimately killed just because of who they are,” said Keri Abrams, a local trans-woman, on why she took on a leading role in organizing Richmond’s Transgender Day of Remembrance. “And it shouldn’t happen.” Transgender Day of Remembrance, or TDoR, is an annual event held to honor [...]November 16, 2015
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