“It’s a beautiful day today,” said Keri Abrams, a local transgender woman and activist as she looked over the crowd in a temporary tent installed to house the public as they commemorated a tree planted to honor those lost because of anti transgender violence. “It could be snowing, it could be cold, but look who’s in this room?”
Sure enough, the room was filled with some of RVA’s most powerful community, law enforcement and LGBTQ members and they were all there to honor the event which also happened to fall on the Transgender day of Visibility.
“Always remember those who are not with us today and… those who are not with us today are that way because of who they are, who they were,” said VCU President Michael Rao (seen below), the opening speaker for the day. “To me, its unimaginable that we have to say that, but hopefully by looking at this tree… we’ll have opportunities to be good to each other, who ever we are.”
Rao spoke of VCU’s commitment to diversity and inclusion, stressing how those qualities help make the college a “world class university.”
“It’s really about shaping society and communities. It’s about bringing people together so they can support eachoer in ways that human beings are designed to,” he said. “Sometimes that can be a challenge cause we all have differences, if you look at them as away to divide us… you can lose out…”
Rao pointed out two local activists who were instrumental in getting today’s tree commemoration off the ground – Kenneth Decker and Andrew Wilson. Both have played roles in fighting for LGBTQ equality in Richmond and across the Commonwealth.
“Because of what you guys do… it makes a significant difference in the ability of other people to feel like they have a voice because you have put that out there in the world,” he said.
Wilson (seen below) then took to the mic to share his own connection to the event. As a transgender man, he’s faced all kinds of issues but he said he’d been fortunate to avoid the kind of violence that makes the annual Transgender Day of Remembrance so powerful… until last year.
He said he’d had a meeting scheduled with the leader of a local LGBTQ health org but it was canceled last minute when he got a phone call saying the person he was set to meet had just lost someone close to them and was unable to attend. When he turned on the news, he found out a local transwoman – Noonie Norwood – had been murdered in South Side RVA that weekend and he connected the dots.
“Although I never had the pleasure of meeting [Noonie], it hit hard that this happened in my own city,” he said.
2016 was the deadliest year for trans people on record according to Remembering Our Dead, the website that keeps the names of those lost to anti-transgender violence so they can be read out loud every Novemeber 20th on the International Transgender day of Remembrance (TDoR). Decker was instrumental to bringing TDoR to RVA back in 2007 and has held a leadership role with the group ever since.
Wilson looked toward President Rao and thanked him and the school’s police department for the work they’d done to support today’s event and the LGBTQ community as a whole.
“Today I am proud to say ‘I am a student of VCU,’” he said.
Decker spoke next and he connected TDoR and today’s event to the anti-LGBTQ violence his first lover was a victim of many years ago. From that point on, he said, he devoted his life to combat such hate crimes and today’s event was another step in doing just that.
Decker also mentioned the tensions many in the LGBTQ community face when it comes to interacting with police officers, who have a history of not only harassing LGBTQs, but also enforcing discriminatory laws. But he saw the tree planting and the liaison programs that have popped up over the last few years as prime examples of a changing of the winds.
“Many in our community are weary of allaying with law enforcement,” he said. “But in terms of prevent and ultimately eliminating hate crimes, there’s no other choice other than to ally with law enforcement and the people I’ve worked with have been sterling examples of that profession.”
Decker with VCU Police Sergeant Nicole Dailey who helped organize today’s event
One of those examples also spoke today: Richmond Police LGBTQ Liaison Captain Dan Minton. Minton said he and Decker met shortly after he was given the liaison title and one of the first ideas mentioned was the planting of today’s tree.
“I was impressed right off the bat with his passion and drive to bring awareness for the community for this event,” Minton said of Decker’s efforts. “He also had a great need to bring focus to anti-transgender violence and prejudice.”
Minton, who was in attendance for Mayor Stoney’s signing of a pledge to stop anti-LGBTQ discrimination in Richmond, said the work he’s seen from the city, VCU and VCU Police has been incredible.
“As you pay respect to those who have passed, take comfort in the future,” he said. “RVA’s commitment to acceptance and diversity has planted this tree today. Moving forward, education and understand will continue to branch out and extend our efforts.”
Capt. Minton with Keri Abrams
Other police jurisdictions present today included Chief Venuti of VCU Police, Richmond Sheriff Chief C.T. Woody and the Richmond sheriff’s LGBTQ liaison Major Jenkins.
The tree remains open to the public in the parking lot behind VCU Police’s office building at 220 E. Broad St. The Richmond Transgender day of Remembrance will happen again this year on November 20th, stay tuned to GayRVA for updates as we get closer to the event.