As dozens gather on the steps of Georgia Capitol each Nov. 20, names are read aloud, each followed by a single chime of a bell ringing out into the cold night.
The gathering is the annual Transgender Day of Remembrance vigil, and the names are of transgender people who have died due to violence or discrimination. The bell is a stark reminder that some people want others who are “different” to be forgotten. Forever.
“This is the most emotional part of the vigil to me,” says Tracee McDaniel, founder and executive director of the Juxtaposed Center for Transformation, Inc., and organizer of Atlanta’s Transgender Day of Remembrance.
“These people are deceased. We memorialize those individuals by reciting their names — their families don’t want to remember them, others don’t want to remember them. We are making sure their names and their memories are remembered,” McDaniel says.
Included in the names will be that of Precious Armani, a transgender Atlanta woman killed in 2003. Her slaying remains unsolved.
The Transgender Day of Remembrance, an international event, is held every November and was created following the Nov. 28, 1998, murder of Rita Hester, a 34-year-old African-American trans woman. She was brutally stabbed more than 20 times in her home near Boston and a candlelight vigil was held to remember her in the days following her murder. Hester’s death led to the “Remembering Our Dead” web project and also TDOR.
In 2011, seven transgender people have been reported killed in the U.S. and 11 others killed in other countries, according to international TDOR organizers. These people were strangled, shot, stabbed and beaten to death because of who they were.
In Washington, D.C., alone this year, a transgender woman was shot and killed in July, two transgender women were shot and injured by an off-duty police officer in August, and another transgender woman was shot in the neck on Sept. 12.
National research proves that transgender people face violence and discrimination every day.
“There is no safe city — there is no safe state — for transgender people in the United States,” says Lisa Mottet, in a Sept. 29 story on NPR.
Mottet is the co-author of the National Transgender Discrimination Survey released in February 2011. A survey of more 6,450 transgender people showed they faced harassment in school settings. For example, 35 percent of respondents reported being physically assaulted at some time from kindergarten through twelfth grade.
‘Moving forward, that’s our motto’
And while the news is depressing, the theme for this year’s vigil in Atlanta is “We Are Resilient.”
“With everything going on in the economy, it’s depressing. The vigil is depressing in itself, but we have to look forward to the future. And moving forward, that’s our motto,” McDaniel says. “We are resilient regardless of discrimination, marginalization, lack of access to social services resources we need to access.”
Transgender individuals face increased hardships when it comes to finding housing, a job, and health care, McDaniel says. And while the vigil honors the people who have died, it is also a time to try to uplift others who are transgender and gender non-conforming.
“We face homelessness, unemployment, lack of health care, fair housing — these reasons, in addition to the violence, are why so many transgender people have to be resilient,” McDaniel says.
One bright moment this year was Chaz Bono, the transgender son of gay icon Cher and Sonny Bono, performing on the popular “Dancing with the Stars” TV show.
McDaniel said she watched that show for the first time to show support for Chaz and also to mark a moment in history when a transgender person was in the mainstream public spotlight for several weeks.
“I loved it. I was so proud,” McDaniel says. “The reason I was watching was only to support Chaz. If we don’t support each other we are not going to ever start to evolve to where we are supposed to be within society,” she says.
“What I’d like to do is make it easier for those who are coming behind us,” McDaniel says.
“I didn’t have any positive role models to look up to in my earlier years. It’s always great to have someone we can relate to on a deeper level. Someone who looks like us, someone who lives like us, that we can aspire to be like.”
Sponsors for the vigil are Lambda Legal, the Human Rights Campaign and Meak Productions.
People attending this year’s vigil are asked to wear gold or yellow to show solidarity, McDaniel says.
“We’re asking people to incorporate gold or yellow into their attire in some way. We will be passing out some gold ribbons but may not have enough. The number of people supporting this vigil continues to grow over the years and we are so grateful to have supporters and allies who do come out,” she says.
Top photo: Each year, LGBT Atlantans gather on the steps for the Georgia Capitol to honor transgender victims of violence as part of the Transgender Day of Remembrance. (by Dyana Bagby)