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Remembrance and Resilience: Richmond Commemorates Transgender Day of Remembrance 2017

Events were marked by speeches from Congressman Donald McEachin and Mayor Levar Stoney, among others.

Marilyn Drew Necci | November 21, 2017

Last night, in a year that will go down as the deadliest on record thus far for the transgender community of the United States, people gathered all over the country to commemorate Transgender Day of Remembrance, and ensure that the many victims of anti-trans violence would not be forgotten. Two of those ceremonies were held here in Richmond, one at Diversity Richmond and the other at the Richmond Public Library.

Several elected officials were present at the Diversity Richmond event. After an introduction by Diversity executive director Bill Harrison, during which he read a proclamation from Governor McAuliffe, Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney read a proclamation officially recognizing the date as Transgender Day Of Remembrance in the city of Richmond. The proclamation included lines noting that “transgender people are victims of violence out of proportion to their numbers” and that “transgender people of color, mostly women, have suffered the most casualties, frequently at the hands of men with guns.”

Mayor Levar Stoney

Several of the event’s organizers spoke as well, and made particular mention of the relationships they’d cultivated with local law enforcement agencies over the past few years. The presence of nearly a dozen law enforcement officials at the event, including Richmond Chief of Police Alfred Durham and LGBTQ liaisons from three different departments, showed the success of these efforts. Co-organizer Keri Abrams said, “I know that [the LGBTQ liaisons] have done work for the trans community,” relating an incident in which a local police liaison had called her late at night seeking help for a trans person who’d just been released from jail.

After the opening remarks were concluded, the ceremonial reading of the names of all transgender people killed in the US in the last year began. As each person’s picture was displayed on an overhead projector, their name and a short explanation of who they were and how they are remembered by their loved ones was read aloud. During this reading, a procession of candle bearers, including students from Prince George County High School’s GSA, came forward with candles that were then blown out as the person’s name was read for the last time, and a bell tolled.

This solemn ceremony helped us all to remember and grieve for those lost, but also reminded us of what Kenneth Decker had said earlier — that the real purpose of Transgender Day Of Remembrance is to bring an end to the need for such an event. Decker urged all present, particularly elected officials, to help work towards statewide hate crimes legislation covering gender identity and expression, sexual orientation, and disability. “Hate crimes legislation will not in and of itself bring an end to [TDoR], but it is a major tool needed, and also an important statement in terms of the values of this state,” Decker said. One couldn’t help but think of these sentiments as the names of the dead were read.

Congressman Donald McEachin

After the reading of the names, Congressman Donald McEachin spoke about his efforts on the federal legislative level to fight against the trans military ban from his position on the House Armed Services Committee. McEachin compared the attempts to push transgender people out of the military to earlier efforts to keep African-Americans from serving in the US military. “We find ourselves back to the future in some sense, in terms of having this same conversation again, that somehow a group of people, because of a distinctive characteristic that they might have, cannot serve this country,” he said. “And that is wrong.”

“But I’ve got some good news to report,” he continued. “I, along with 140 of my colleagues, immediately signed a letter in protest of this matter. So a large number of Congress members immediately went on record, both Democrat and Republican, pushing back on this horrible decision by the President.” McEachin promised that he and other government officials would continue fighting the ban, and for full equality for all in the LGBTQ community. “We all know the fight will not be easy, that there will be more sacrifices and more suffering,” he said. “But I believe that with every fiber of our being, together, we will win.” It was heartening to see an elected official comming to the LGBTQ community, and specifically the trans community, and declaring that he was fighting for us, and would continue to do so. This is something we couldn’t have expected even a decade ago.

Earlier in the evening, at the Richmond Public Library, another event was held. Entitled the Transgender Day of Remembrance and Resilience (TDoRR), this event was put together by a coalition including Nationz Foundation, T-Gurls Rock, and Southerners On New Ground to both honor those who had been lost and celebrate the lives of those trans people still living. The event began with a slide show depicting the names and faces of each trans person killed over the past year, over which a recording was played featuring poems memorializing the deceased and discussing the struggles, triumphs, and tragedies of life as trans and non-binary people.

After the slide show were several performances from members of T-Gurls Rock. Singer-songwriter Grace Harris performed a solo acoustic song she’d written just prior to her transition, wryly noting that she’d “thought it was about something else” at the time she wrote it. After Harris’s performance, three transgender drag queens performed songs of strength and resilience, including Mariah Carey’s “Hero.”

When the performances were finished, all in attendance went outside and assembled on the library’s front steps for a candlelight vigil commemorating those lost. Rev. Lacette Cross spoke of the deceased that TDoRR was intended to honor, reminding us all of what had been taken out of the world and that we must continue to work to make the world better and safer for those transgender people who still remain among us. “We cannot be silent in the face of injustice,” she urged.

Both events were attended by a wide spectrum of Richmond’s LGBTQ community, and the different groups represented at each event demonstrated why this year’s TDoR commemoration expanded beyond a single event. After the ceremonies, refreshments were shared by all in attendance, showing that the LGBTQ community is truly a community; a place where those with similar experiences can come to find understanding and support.

Photos by Sara Necci