For the 15th Annual Transgender Day of Remembrance, organizers and attendants will once again return to the steps of the state capitol on Wednesday, Nov. 20.
The event begins at 6 p.m, and will include appearances by such notables as Atlanta transgender attorney Jamie Roberts, Tony Tobias with Delta Airlines and Molly Simmons from the Human Rights Campaign.
This past year the program was held at the Philip Rush Center.
“We decided to do something a little less formal this year, since it is so close to the holidays,” says Tracey McDaniel, executive director of the Atlanta-based Juxataposed Center For Transformation.
The presentation will include the aforementioned guest speakers, as well as the traditional citation of names of individuals who have lost their lives in transphobic attacks over the past year.
According to McDaniel, an unspecified number of trans women have been found murdered in Atlanta during the past year, with their battered bodies left behind in garbage cans and dumpsters.
Her account is similar to a series of trans murders that occurred in the city in the mid 1990s, which remain unsolved to this day and raises a question: does the continued death rate suggest the possibility that a potential serial killer could be stalking trans sex workers in metro Atlanta?
“I don’t know,” says McDaniel, who was unfamiliar with the decades-old case.
“It’s very difficult to track statistics on trans-related crime. “It’s just so difficult because there is no one to stand up for these people, to be an advocate for them. I don’t judge people by their gender, race or their sexual orientation, but it makes you wonder – do these murders go unsolved because the individuals are not considered straight, and so many don’t have blond hair or blue eyes? Is that why they fall through the cracks.? There seems to be no one to care if the cases are ever solved.”
On a national level, the issue of trans rights has been at the forefront of LGBT media coverage over the past month because of current debate in the senate regarding the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA).
Oddly enough, even more traditionally progressive cable news outlets such as CNN and MSNBC have seemingly avoided discussing the trans protection aspect of the legislation, deferring more often than not to what it offers for gays and lesbians.
When asked if she had noticed the trend, McDaniel was quick to respond.
“I have. There are those who earnestly and honestly support people coping with transgender identity issues, and for those people receiving equal protection. But it’s my feeling [the lack of media coverage] is happening because of a combination of things.”
McDaniel concurs that some in the media have shied away from transgender coverage for fear of raising too much negative response from extreme right wing conservatives who have seemingly backed off on a hardline fight against gay and lesbian equality over the past year, but still take issue with transgender folk.
“Then there are those people,’ she continues. “The ones who put their heads in the sand and don’t want to deal with the trans topic because they just don’t understand, and they don’t want to.
“I think most people think, what’s the difference between gay, lesbian and bisexual? They can’t comprehend the fact that there are some of us within the transgender community who don’t identify as gay, lesbian or bisexual – although there are some within the subgroups of the trans community who do – but most do not.
“There’s even a third category, in my mind,” she says. “The people who do understand, but they choose to remain ignorant. They also choose to remain oblivious to our personal issues, but hopefully the supportive voices will rise above the dissenting voices.”
The Juxataposed Center For Transformation was founded in 2006 and today has a 501c3 status.
“We’re an advocacy, consulting and social services organization,” McDaniel explains. “We refer trans people to medical providers, counseling services, support groups and so forth. If our service providers can’t meet a specific need, we’ll do the research and find what the client needs.”
Like Atlanta’s vast lesbian, gay and bisexual community, the numbers for trans individuals in the queer capital of the south is large, but McDaniel professes she has no way of knowing what the count might be.
“I couldn’t even begin to estimate,” she says wryly. “There are so many who choose to live their lives privately – they’re not part of the LGBT community at large.”
Another point McDaniel confirms is that medical and mortality rates are also frequently inaccurate. “Transgender people very often are misidentified.”
Despite the challenges many trans people face locally and globally, McDaniel is encouraged by Mayor Kasim Reed’s formation earlier this year of a “Working Group on Prostitution.”
“That’s not to say most trans people are sex workers – because that’s not the case. But there are some, and they do what they do to survive, to have a roof over their heads and to have something to eat.
“We’re working toward transgender people receiving equal treatment from law enforcement. There have been a lot of issues about prostitution in Midtown and we feel transgender people are being specifically targeted and treated far worse than other [genetically-born female] prostitutes.
“We’ve interacted with the mayor and with law enforcement on the issues of proper pronoun use, treating everyone with respect, and not discriminating against people because they’re transgender-identified. What we’re waiting for now is signatures on a proposal submitted by my committee on proper procedures for presenting yourself to and dealing with transgender people. The protocol should be in place by January and officers will be trained on that.”
While the struggle for transgender equality continues its uphill battle, members and friends of Atlanta’s trans community will meet on the appointed day to discuss hopes for the future and remember those that are no longer with us.
“It’s a tragic thing,” McDaniel reflects. “There was no one to to help them when they were alive. The least we can do is pay respect to them since they are gone.”
More info: Transgender Day of Remembrance Wednesday, Nov. 20 6 p.m. Georgia State Capitol Building (front steps) 206 Washington St. SW www.jct.org