WORD and community speak-out and march on Transgender Day of Remembrance

On November 20, WORD activists and community members gathered outside the New Haven, Conn., City Hall for a people's speak-out and march in honor of Transgender Day of Remembrance. People joined together to hear a number of powerful speakers, chant and take to the streets in a loud protest of the unending cycle of anti-trans bigotry and violence. The march took a route through the streets of downtown New Haven and ended by joining a candlelit vigil hosted by students from the Yale LGBTQ office as part of the university's Transgender Awareness Week.

A number of local groups participated in the action: Seminarians for a Democratic Society came to offer support from the faith community, Food Not Bombs brought out supporters and home-cooked food for the protesters, and the ANSWER Coalition mobilized as well. People who had never met came together and demanded justice as one.

WORD organizers began the event by speaking about the statistical realities of transgender oppression. Transgender victims make up 20 percent of all murders and 40 percent of all police violence. One in 12 transgender people are murdered every year. The majority of transgender people murdered, 83 percent, are women of color. Transgender people suffer high rates of homelessness, employment discrimination, no or inadequate healthcare, suicide, and sexual abuse as well

Organizer Shawn Vieira spoke about the far-reaching violence and negligence directed at transgender people. “Not only are these murders committed by people who are out with the intent to injure and murder transpeople,” he said, “but also at the hands of passive and bigoted doctors and medical staff.” An anonymous transperson spoke out, saying: “I have been refused emergency room treatment even when delivered to the hospital by ambulance with numerous broken bones and wounds.” Other people present testified to their own experiences of life-threatening discrimination in doctors' offices and other institutional settings. WORD organizers spoke about Islan Nettles, a young African-American trans woman in New York City who was beaten to death right outside a police station, and CeCe McDonald, another transgender woman of color who survived a vicious attack by a white supremacist, but is now in prison for defending herself.

The answer, speakers said, was to continue in the spirit of Stonewall – through organized fightback and tireless demands for change. A trans rights activist stated that vigils are not enough: “We need to be strong as a community, mourn our dead, and come together in solidarity to make a change.” “We hold the power!” chanted the crowd. “When I say queer, you say power!”

WORD organizer Blaire Lauro's words ignited a desire to join in a spirited march and long-term commitment to the struggle. “I want to challenge us all to speak out and fight against oppression at our jobs, in our social life, call it out where ever it appears. It is only with an united populace that we can really end transphobic and all other forms of planned violence. Not one more life!”

The march echoed with more chants: “Not one more life! Shut it down! CeCe's in jail! Shut it down! The whole damn system – shut it down!” “What do we want? Trans rights! When do we want them? Now!” A giant banner inscribed “Not One More Trans* Life Destroyed – Remember, Persevere, Fight Back!” headed the line of marchers, who carried signs with trans oppression statistics and a quote from CeCe McDonald: “I would rather have been punished for asserting myself than become another victim of hatred.”

A block before the location of the vigil, the march fell silent and joined the Yale students, who carried candles and names of murder victims. The vigil involved a song, a reading of the names and solemn speeches by clergy and Yale organizers.

The successful action brought together many different people, all of whom were excited to see a strong fight back movement rising around transrights. The community was excited to hear about WORD's work and vowed to stand together in future struggles.

As organizer Shawn Vieira said, “I have a choice to act as a resistance, or to stand idle. Why do I resist? Because these problems do not solve themselves... We are more than statistics. These people are my friends, this audience, and the future generation of people.”

Transgender Day of Remembrance began in 1999 in San Francisco, Calif., as a call to mourning over the hate-motivated murder of Rita Hester, a transgender woman killed in Allston, Massachussetts in November of 1998. Hester's case, like many others involving transgender victims, has yet to be solved. Transgender Day of Remembrance seeks to preserve the memories and histories of slain transgender individuals like Rita Hester, functioning as a national day of mourning for the transgender community as well as their friends, allies and families. It also serves as sobering reminder of society's pervasive indifference to the well-being of transgender individuals. Just as with Rita Hester's case, many hate crimes against transgender people remain unsolved by the so-called criminal justice system, and the stories of their lives are too often forgotten or misunderstood. The aim of Transgender Day of Remembrance is not only to honor these stories but raise public awareness of transgender issues and bigotry against gender non-conforming people.