by MARK GABRISH CONLAN
Copyright © 2013 by Mark Gabrish Conlan for Zenger’s Newsmagazine • All rights reserved
At the Center, prior to the march
Lighting the candles for the march
“Vibes watchers” helped keep order
Leading the march with the banner
Carrying the Transgender flag
Candi Samples, reigning Imperial Court Empress
Holding the flag
A Sister of Perpetual Indulgence
Flying the Trans flag from the Pride flagpole
Leather leaders at the flag ceremony
The Blessing by the Sisters
Todd starts the reading of the names
Volunteers lined up to read names
The altar set up to honor victims on the Day of Remembrance
“I don’t understand how this happens, and how we let it happen,” said self-described “warrior princess” Kristin Beck at the annual Transgender Day of Remembrance Wednesday, November 20 at the San Diego Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender Community Center. A veteran of the U.S. Navy’s elite SEAL Team 6 before she transitioned from male to female last year, Beck was speaking about the litany of names of over 65 Transgender people officially reported murdered throughout the world between November 2012 and November 2013. The names, read by volunteers from the audience (including this reporter) and punctuated by the solemn ringing of a bell after each one, are the centerpiece of the Day of Remembrance.
Day of Remembrance events occur throughout the world. People who want to put one on download the list of victims by logging on to the official Web site at http://www.transgenderdor.org/memorializing-2013 and organizing a public ceremony including the reading of names. “The event is held in November to honor Rita Hester, whose murder on November 28, 1998 kicked off the ‘Remembering Our Dead’ Web project and a San Francisco candlelight vigil in 1999,” the site explains. “Rita Hester’s murder — like most anti-Transgender murder cases — has yet to be solved.”
Though organizers of the San Diego event said they would be honoring as many as 101 victims, the official list at the Day of Remembrance Web site contained 65 names. Of these, 33 — more than half — were killed in Brazil, which tallies with other statistics. According to the Trans Murder Monitoring Project in Europe, of the 265 known murders of Trans people worldwide between November 2011 and October 2012, 126 took place in Brazil. The country with the next highest number of victims in the 2013 Day of Remembrance list was the United States, at 15, followed by Mexico (six), Turkey (three), Malaysia (two) and Colombia, Guyana, Venezuela, Honduras, Jamaica and France (one each).
The ways in which the victims of anti-Transgender violence were killed makes for even grimmer reading. Of the 65 victims listed on the site, 26 were shot, 17 were stabbed, 13 were beaten either with fists or blunt objects, seven were suffocated or strangled, four were burned, four were bound, four were stoned, three were beheaded, two were drowned, two were run over by cars or trucks, and one each was scalped, tortured, dismembered, hanged or thrown off a bridge. The cause of death of one victim, “Maiara” Castro da Silva of Porto Velho, Rondônia, Brazil, is unknown because her body was dumped, and by the time it was discovered it was in such an advanced state of decomposition it was impossible to tell how she died.
Those numbers add up to more than 65 because many of the victims were attacked in multiple ways. Perhaps the most shocking case on the list was that of Evon Young, age 22, of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, who was tied up, beaten with fists and other objects, choked with a chain, suffocated with a bag taped over his head, shot, set on fire and thrown into a dumpster. Cemia “CeCe” Dove, 23, of Cleveland, Ohio was stabbed multiple times, tied with a rope to a block of concrete and thrown into a pond. Dwayne Jones, 16, of Jamaica was beaten, stabbed, shot and run over by a car. The sheer viciousness of these crimes and the mix of murder methods suggests the combination of hate and fear motivating their perpetrators, their desire to be as brutal as possible and to vent their anger out on their hapless victims as extensively as they could.
The Day of Remembrance in San Diego consisted of a march that began and ended at the Center at 6 p.m. and was originally scheduled to loop through Hillcrest to Fifth and University, then return. The march leaders moved the line at a fast clip but instructed the marchers to stay on the sidewalks and obey all traffic signals, which slowed things down so much the turnaround took place several blocks earlier than scheduled. The rush was due to the need to get back to the Center by 7 for the formal program in the Center’s large auditorium, which featured an extended blessing by the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence and an appearance by San Diego City Council president and acting mayor Todd Gloria.
Apologizing for coming late to the event — “I’ve got citywide responsibilities these days,” he said — Gloria called on Lesbians, Gay men and Bisexuals to do more to support their Transgender brothers and sisters. “To the extent that the kind of violence that we are memorializing today is acceptable in some communities, it comes from the fact that we do not do enough to support our Transgender brothers and sisters,” Gloria said. “The fact that you are here tonight sends a strong signal that we do not support hate and violence against those in our community — our community — and we will stand up against it. When the unthinkable happens, we will remember those who are lost.”
Another featured speaker was Transgender activist Monica Helms, who designed the Transgender Pride flag — a series of alternating stripes of pink, blue and white — and who displayed the prototype during her talk. “The reason I created this was because the person who created the Bisexual pride flag said the Trans community should have a flag of their own,” Helms recalled. “I tried to figure out what I should do, and it hit me one morning exactly what it should be. The light blue is the traditional color for baby boys, pink is the traditional color for baby girls, and the white in the middle is for those who are undefined or neutral gender; those who feel they are either both genders or neither gender; and those who are transitioning.” Helms also boasted that, no matter how the flag is flown, its pattern is the same.
Helms spoke with a sense of pride in how far her creation has reached and in how many places it’s been flown. “Today I saw a picture of the Equality House that’s in front of Westboro Baptist Church [pastured by anti-Queer minister Fred Phelps], and they had painted it the Trans flag colors,” Helms said. “I’ve seen this flag flown in Pride parades in Finland, Serbia, Turkey, Taiwan and all kinds of other places in the world. I’m just flabbergasted that this turned out the way it did. I’m very honored and humbled that all of you have accepted it as our flag.” As part of the Day of Remembrance ceremony, the rainbow flag that usually flies from the Pride flagpole at University and Normal was briefly taken down and replaced by the Trans flag, which was then lowered and folded, military-style, and used as part of a memorial altar during the program at the Center.“Injustice anywhere in the world is a threat to justice for all of us,” said Kristin Beck at the beginning of her presentation — paraphrasing the late Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. “I look up on this board, and I look at the names, and I look at what’s happening to my brothers and sisters. I just weep, man. I’m just really torn up. As a veteran, I’ve lost a lot of my brothers and sisters in combat. But we were in combat. These are just young, innocent girls and boys. One was a 13-year-old. I don’t understand how this happens, and how we can let it happen.”