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Trans Murder Victims Remembered on Boston Common

by Dan Meyer

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Tuesday November 20, 2012

On a chilly Sunday evening, hundreds of supporters stood with lit candles on Boston Common to honor the 265 transgender men and women killed because of who they are.

On the steps leading to the State House, the names of Massachusetts victims were read aloud, including the date of death, cause and additional remarks about where the bodies were found, who committed the crime and whether or not they received justice.

"As free Americans, just like everyone else, we're going to read the names as a symbolic reminder to this institution of the people who have died in Massachusetts because of hatred," said Nancy Nangeroni, chair of the Massachusetts Transgender Political Coalition (MTPC), as she pointed to the State House.

After those names were read, marchers walked with their candles to create a circle near the gazebo on Boston Common, where each of the 265 murdered transgender people were remembered.

For onlookers, it was a powerful sight. Several bystanders stopped to ask what was happening, allowing the participants to hand them a flyer with information detailing the horrific violence that many in the transgender community face.

"Last night, like every Trans Day of Remembrance event I have attended over the last 13 years, provided me with a time for reflection about the staggering losses in our communities and about how much more social justice work needs to be done," MTPC Executive Director Gunner Scott told EDGE. "Every year the number of people attending TDOR increases, which just shows how the violence against transgender people has a ripple effect, not just affecting our close family or friends, but the communities of people here in Boston and around the world."

Rita Hester, killed in 1998 in her apartment because of her trans identity, was the catalyst for this annual event. Shortly after her death, community activists organized a candlelight vigil. Over the past decade, the event has grown significantly to include a ceremony allowing the LGBT community at-large to show its support for trans people.

"It's an opportunity to raise awareness about trans community and trans people and not only the challenges we face but also the things that we've accomplished," said BAGLY Executive Director Grace Sterling Stowell. "The community's come a long way in recent years, especially with the passage of trans-equality law last year."

"Primarily, though," Sterling Stowell added, "it is a time for us to remember those we've lost; that disproportionately, trans people are being murdered or victimized in many ways, by many people, every year."

This year's ceremony was held inside Boston's St. Paul's Episcopal Cathedral. Charito Suarez was the evening's emcee, who opened by singing "Perhaps Love," a song with a message of peace and unity to strengthen the LGBT community. "If we stick together/fight for what we believe in/ then gender-blind society would be the rule," she sang.

Transgender Victims of Violence Speak Out

Perhaps the most moving portion of the ceremony was the apportioned time set aside for victims of transgender violence to speak out. At least 15 people shared their pain and their struggle.

One man, likely in his 50s or 60s, began weeping openly as he admitted that he wanted desperately to become a woman. But when he came out to his two sons, he did not find acceptance, saying, "My older son won’t speak about it to me. When I told my younger son, he said, ’That’s silly, Dad.’"

Another speaker announced to the attendees that her transgender sister was killed in California only four weeks ago. Her tear-filled speech was full of so much emotion and raw energy that it brought the crowd to its feet, applauding her bravery for being so honest and public so soon after the crime.

It is young transwomen of color who are targeted the most, said BAGLY Executive Director Grace Sterling Stowell, but that didn’t seem to be stopping Bambina, a transgender female from Alabama.

"I didn’t suffer a lot in high school," she admitted to an audience of nearly 300, sharing her hope that one day everyone in the transgender community will have equal rights and that the violence people suffer nearly every day will cease. It was clear that many in the audience knew the young woman, who was full of energy, with a big personality. Bambina set an example that Sterling Stowell mentioned in an interview shortly before the event.

"I hope [Transgender Awareness Week] is an opportunity for young people to see themselves as part of a larger community. We are a strong and vibrant community. We are not alone out there," said Sterling Stowell.

She showed how important it is for the community to come together and be united. It’s a strong message for LGBT youth who struggle not only with their identity, but also for acceptance from parents, friends and loved ones.

In addition to youth speaking out for other youth, Rev. Thomas Shaw spoke out against the common religious persecution of transgender individuals.

"We didn’t invite you tonight to convert you. We want you to know that the Episcopal Church is your defender," said Shaw, adding later, "I can’t thank you enough for your witness. Your courage inspires me."

Event Ends With Candlelight Vigil on Boston Common

Following the speak-out, nearly everyone in attendance filed out of the church and across the street into the Common to participate in the candlelight vigil ceremony. Boston Police officers were standing outside, protecting everyone from oncoming traffic and potential threats from bystanders.

"The police are watching over us," said Nangeroni, a solemn reminder that not every city has law enforcement officials who support that support the trans community.

As supporters walked around the Common, the talk was mostly about how supported they felt in the moment. EDGE overheard Monique, a transwoman who spoke during the indoor ceremony, saying to her friend, "Look at all the candles. I never expected so many to come; this support is incredible."

Events for the Day of Remembrance were held all across America between Nov. 18-20. This past year, 265 trans men and women were killed around the world. The highest number of incidents occurred in Brazil (129 deaths), followed by Mexico (49) and the United States (15).

Dan Meyer is a young professional whose stories have appeared in publications such as The Advocate online and UCLA's LGBT magazine entitled "OutWrite." He is also a part-time ESL teacher in Boston.