Richmond Transgender Day of Remembrance Happens Wednesday Nov. 20
Photo via Kontra RVA from last year’s TDoR
Transgender Day of Remembrance (TDoR) is a day to reflect on the painful reality of inequity, and to mourn those murdered solely for being transgender. This year, the memorial service will be held on November 20 at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church located at 815 Grace Street. The entire LGBTQ community and their allies are encouraged to come and show their support.
TDoR is the one holiday for trans people, and has been celebrated in Richmond for the past eight years. It is a celebration of living trans people in the community, and a mourning of those who have been lost due to violent acts. This year, Wes McWillen has taken a leadership role and has done most of the coordinating for the memorial, as well as for the trans oriented events that will take place throughout the month of November.
McWillen felt a calling to his position as chair of the planning committee. “I only came out as trans 2 years ago and because I had been presumably an ally the entire time that I had been doing LGBT advocacy stuff, once I was able to come out as a gay trans man, I felt like I really had an obligation to the community to work on doing things to improve it,” McWillen said. Although this is only his second year being involved in TDoR, he wanted to play a bigger role in this year’s events.
While there are numerous events that people can participate in, the main event is the nondenominational memorial service. The service will begin with an introduction and a welcoming, which will be performed by Keri Abrams. Abrams is transgender, and began getting involved in TDoR when she connected with a support group in the James River Trans Society.
“When I heard about it (TDoR) and learned about what it’s for, it was just something that I had to do,” Abrams said. She has been involved with the event for four years, and this year has decided to take an active role on the planning commission.
After the welcoming, Reverend Jeanne Pupke will speak, as will Reverend Wallace Adams-Riley. They will “give a nondenominational type of prayer for everyone that lost their lives and hope in the future that this doesn’t happen again,” Abrams said.
After prayers are voiced, participants will be able to stand up and say their piece. “We’ll have people from the trans community, activists, allies, families, friends, come up and speak. Sometimes they speak on behalf of someone they know that was murdered due to violence towards them,” Abrams said.
An international list of every trans person who has lost his or her life to a violent act this year will be listed on the program, and about 20 names and biographies will be shared and read during the service. “Last year it was 28 names…” said McWillen. “We don’t know the final number until the day before the service, because unfortunately that number changes on a daily basis.”
The majority of names read will belong to trans women of color. Sadly, they are most often the victims of transphobic violence. “Trans women of color are at the intersection of racism, misogyny, homophobia, and transphobia. That’s why they experience violence disproportionately,” McWillen said.
The memorial service hopes to open people’s eyes to the unfair treatment that trans people experience each day, and aims to allow differing communities to come together around the issue.
My Darling Fury will be playing their single ‘Blots in the Margins’ during the service. “That song speaks to alienated and disenfranchised people. It’s a great feature for the service this year,” McWillen said.
J. L. Pressley will be the one of the speakers at the ceremony; he’ll give the affirmation of the service. Pressley is a transgender man who has been involved in TDoR nationwide. “In Los Angela’s, California, in Charlotte North Carolina, Washington D.C. Every time I know it’s going on, I’m there,” Pressley said. He hopes to bring to Richmond the kind of uplifting feeling that he has experienced around the United States on TDoR.
TDoR is a holiday, just like any other to Pressley. “It’s just like forth of July, just like Christmas, Thanksgiving. It’s a day of coming together to remember the lives of those who have been slain at the hands of ignorance,” Pressley said. “And it’s a day to reflect about what has happened versus what we need to do to cause this to not happen anymore.”
He hopes that one day TDoR will be a day for celebration and reflection, instead of one about mourning and remorse. In order for this change to occur, transgender individuals and their allies need to band together and stop the madness. “We need to come together as a community of trans experience to say ‘How do we go beyond where we are, how do we get this nonsense to stop?’ Next year it could be one of us, with our name being called. ” Pressley said.
In order to start change and move towards positivity, Pressley tries to end the service by inspiring people. “It felt like there was this heaviness in the room when the service was over, so I looked at it and said how do I lift myself out of this, because I’ve still got to live, I’ve still got to go on,” he said.
He ends the service asking for change, asking for help, and empowering others.
Pressley believes that change can be made in a few basic steps. “We have to go beyond the color line, we have to go beyond the religion line, we have to go beyond any line that there is and go to the outer boundary, and know that as we are going, we are going together as an army that can do a mighty work,” Pressley said.
When the service is completed, which should run about an hour, participants will be given a candle. They will take this candle out on to the steps of the church and will be given time to reflect. Meanwhile, the church bell will toll one time for each trans individual that died this year. “It’s going to be a very, very moving ceremony this year,” Abrams said.
This is the first year that the candle lighting will be visible to the public, and having it outdoors hopes to raise awareness about trans issues. “In years past, the service has taken place completely indoors and is only visible to the people that attend it. However, I feel like trans visibility is kind of an issue in VA, so we decided that it would be good this year to have at least part of it visible to the public,” McWillen said. As people drive by, they will be able to see participants standing on the stairs with candles, increasing overall visibility of the trans community and the violence that they endure.
Many local organization have gotten involved in TDoR this year, including the Fan Free Clinic, First Unitarian Universalist Church of Richmond, Southerners on New Ground (SONG), and many more.
“Richmond is lucky to have a vibrant and diverse LGBT community with a lot of organizations that are already very active and so really it was just a matter of facilitating things between representatives of lots of LGBT organizations for a collaborative planning effort,” McWillen said.
St. Paul’s is a large church, so the service will be able to accommodate 700 people, and they are expecting around 300 participants. All Richmonders are encouraged to come to the service. “I’m really trying to get the word out to the allies this year… their attendance is really important, and that they many learn something about the trans experience that they didn’t know before,” McWillen said.
McWillen and Abrams are both hoping for a big turn out this year. “Please take just a little bit of your time and come out to the service and just feel the impact of the candle lighting service, the bells being tolled for each person that met their death from a violent death,” Abrams said. It’s vital that people in all communities become allies and assist members of the Richmond trans community.
“It shows us that you walk the walk, and not just talk the talk; that you do care about us,” McWillen said.
“It’s important to not pretend that Richmond is exempt from that, and acknowledge that fear exists.”November 16, 2016
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