OPED: From CT to VA – Organizing TDOR
These challenges make us stronger
By Kenneth C. Decker
“Just be aware that, with regard to transgender issues, you’ll be stepping back 25 years from where we are in Connecticut.” That was the warning I received from a transgender woman whom I’d just met; she’d recently arrived in Hartford, having lived much of her life in greater Richmond, VA. In mid-2006, my life journey was taking me in the opposite direction.
Upon arrival in Richmond in September, I asked around concerning Transgender Day of Remembrance events and found that Queer Action at VCU was hosting an observance, but nothing in the broader LGBTI community. While attending Richmond Pride, the Steering Committee for TDOR 2007 began to take form.
Basing the format on that of Hartford’s event, of which I’d been an organizer, each group represented was given a specific role, based upon their function, mission statement and capacity to deliver.
What I discovered were a wonderful group of people, both galvanized and on some level, disappointed by the amendment process which ultimately codified prejudice into the Commonwealth’s constitution. That first year (2007), ROSMY stepped forward to host the Day of Remembrance, their youth programming for November being intentionally built around gender identity and expression.
Recognizing the potential for emotional overload facing their youthful constituents while attending the TDOR observance, ROSMY staff made sure to prepare facilitators to deal with this contingency. 25 years back in time? Perhaps not.
Word of HRC’s decision to support and endorse a non-inclusive ENDA threatened to cast a pall over what was already a somber gathering. Instead, the community unanimously endorsed an open letter to U. S. Representative Barney Frank and HRC President Joe Solmonese, in which I challenged them to attend Richmond’s Day of Remembrance observance and explain to the gathered ROSMY youth exactly why they would choose to disenfranchise an entire segment of our community in pursuit of equal protection under federal law.
Quite a contrast to my experience in Hartford in 2005. That year, roughly one month prior to the Transgender Day of Remembrance, two lesbians were attacked outside of a gay bar on Hartford’s South End. A group of activists (myself included) met with the Chief of Police as part of an effort to organize a rally to be held prior to the Day of Remembrance observance, the rally to be focused on violence generally and hate-based violence specifically. An outgrowth of this meeting was the appointment of an LGBTI Liaison within the Hartford Police Department.
Our efforts were undercut by the board of the Hartford Pride Center, whose Vice-President owned the bar near where the attack had occurred. The Center’s statement to the media inferred that the assault was indicative not of bias attacks but rather just part of increased violence in the city generally. They further went on to request additional police patrols in the South End (incidentally, the locale of the city’s gay bars).
This division within the community ultimately led to the Police Liaison being given a luke-warm reception. No town meetings were scheduled with the liaison as special guest, the liaison was never interviewed by the local LGBTI media outlet; in short, the community failed to capitalize on the momentum created by a bias-based attack on two of our own. Jerimarie Liesegang, who organized the anti-violence rally, as well as the Day of Remembrance, continued working behind the scenes and did advance the local police department relative to transgender issues. However, when budget cuts inevitably beset the City of Hartford, there was insufficient leverage to argue to retain the post of Hartford Police Liaison when that job was on the chopping block.
Therein lies the difference between Hartford, Ct. and Richmond, VA. As frustrated as we might become when legislators ignore our demands for equal treatment and protection under law; as irrational as our elected officials in the Executive branch might be; the fact is that these challenges make us stronger, bringing us closer to realizing our goal with the Transgender Day of Remembrance, that being the end of the need for an annual Day of Remembrance.
“I’m not letting his misogyny define me, define my daughter or define my community.”April 21, 2017
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