Hundreds gather to celebrate Richmond Transgender Day of Remembrance 2014
About 350 people gathered at the Byrd Theatre last night to celebrate the international Transgender Day of Remembrance (TDoR). Though a somber event, the large turnout and the new venue created a powerful event for an often neglected portion of RVA’s LGBTQ spectrum.
“Tonight we not only remember those who have lost their lives to senseless violence, but also those who died from tragic events,” said J.L. Pressley, a trans man and a familiar face from Richmond TDoR’s past. He’s spoken at many of these events, and this year he provided the history of the event.
TDoR is celebrated every year on November 20th as a way to remember members of the trans community who lost their lives to transphobic violence. This year, 236 names were on the international list; however, only a small portion was read in the halls of the Byrd last night.
The first TDoR was celebrated in 1999 in San Francisco, a year after the murder of trans woman Rita Hestor. Hestor’s murder remains unsolved, but the event has grown internationally every year since.
This was the 9th year the event was celebrated in Richmond.
2014 marked the first time the event was held in a secular location since its early years at the ROSMY building. Switching back to non-religious location was an issue brought up by members of the trans community who told organizers celebrating in a church often made them uncomfortable. The historic Byrd Theatre, with its dramatic lighting and history, proved to be an impactful venue despite the lack of spirituality.
“I can’t tell you how proud all of us are to add this special night to our legacy,” said the Byrd Theatre’s General manager Todd A. Schall-Vess. The Byrd has been around for almost 90 years and is a long-time staple in RVA, but this is the first time the venue held an event of this weight for the LGBTQ community.
“I’m sure everyone here will remember those we lost for 86 years and more,” said Schall-Vess. ”Thank you so much for being here and allowing us to be part of it.”
This year’s TDoR will also be remembered as the first time the event was almost entirely trans-run and organized. The lone cisgender voice who spoke last night was from Rev. Dr. Robyn Gorsline, a local pastor and president of People of Faith for Equality in Virginia.
Gorsline provided the inspirational message for the evening, saying the event was not only about remembering those who passed, but also helping to spread the word about their passing to the broader community.
Wearing a pair of dangly earings, Gorsline said while he didn’t identify as trans, he was “out, and proud, to not only be seen with you, but to do my part to carry the message of gender freedom to all.”
“I can’t think of a better way to do that, than to be here tonight and stand in vigil,” said Gorsline. “But also be advocates and agitators after tonight, for the new world outside the gender-binary prison.”
Pressley echoed his remarks and asked for those in attendance who did not identify as trans to spread the message of transphobic violence outside the confines of the annual event.
“It is important to remember that today is not only a day for action, but also a day for education,” said Pressley. “To stand up for the rights of individuals who have become victims of harassment, bullying and name calling because of our gender identity and gender expression.”
Bethany Pahl provided the closing remarks for the evening. She thanked those in attendance, and noted the nation and the state have changed a lot in the years when it comes to transgender issues, but there is still much more to do.
She commented on the number of trans people in popular culture, and said it was one part of changing hearts and minds around the country.
“With more shows, books, actors dealing with and putting being transgender out there, the public is getting a little information. However, we all need to educate,” said Pahl. “It will get us closer to acceptance from family, friends, and coworkers.”
40 names were read before the crowd last night. Three from the list hailed from Virginia. Thankfully none of them were lost to transphobic violence, but rather were people the community wanted to remember.
Wes McQuillen, one of TDoR’s organizers, gave final remarks before the crowd left the theater for a candle-lit vigil. He thanked the many people who reached out to help support the event.
“It makes me proud of Richmond when I send an email out about and event and 33 organizations become sponsors, and more than 100 people step up to volunteer,” said McQuillen.
He also mentioned Sage Smith, a black trans girl who went missing in November 2012 and has still not been found–a trend which plagues TDoR.
“The majority of those we recognize every year are transgender women of color, and the response to their deaths in most areas ranges from disdain and disregard to, in the best case scenarios, the minimum required investigation,” said McQuillen. “We suffer from a lack of answers about Sage and several others.”
Beyond Sage’s disappearance, the murder of Amari Hill, a trans woman of color found murdered last November in a Richmond South Side alley, also remains unsolved.
As the crowd filed onto the sidewalk outside the Byrd, Richmond Police Chief Ray J. Tarasovic could be seen in his blue uniform. Tarasovic has been no stranger to LGBTQ events in Richmond. He attended Virginia Pride this summer, and read a city council document honoring TDoR at last year’s TDoR event.
This year, however, he stood in respectful silence with the crowd this year.
“Its a day commemorating lives lost senselessly,” said Tarasovic humbly with his wife on his arm. “I’m in the business of protecting lives and I can’t find a better place to be.”
There are a series of events coinciding with TDoR, they are listed below:
A Night at The Speakeasy: Trans* and Allies Social Night
Date: Nov 22nd
Time: 6:00pm to 8:00pm
Location: The Speakeasy at The Hippodrome (526 N. 2nd St, Richmond, VA 23219)
What: Drinks, networking, and mingle event, sponsored by the Richmond Business Alliance
Featuring DJ Connie Sue of ANIMAL RVA
Please RSVP at http://
Facebook event available here: https://www.facebook.com/
Community Conversation: Genderqueer & Gender Nonconforming Identities
Date: Nov 23rd
Location: GCCR Classroom (1407 Sherwood Ave, Richmond, VA 23220)
What: panel discussion, hosted by SAGE
RSVP the Facebook event: https://www.facebook.com/
Film Screening: Beautiful Boxer
Date: Nov 24th
Location: Richmond Triangle Players (1300 Altamont Ave, Richmond, VA 23230)
What: film screening, hosted by SONG
RSVP the Facebook event: https://www.facebook.com/
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