They united in grief, anger, fear and frustration to remember a deadly year in the transgender community — and to demand an end to the hate that continues to take lives.
“At this moment I’m feeling so many different emotions: I’m angry, I’m scared, I’m frustrated and I’m just plain tired,” organizer Celena Morrison told the crowd at last Friday’s Candlelight Vigil for the Lives of Trans Women Lost to Violence. “Last year was the deadliest year on record for trans women, and most of those killed were trans women of color.”
In 2016, 27 trans women — the majority of whom were women of color — were murdered in the United States. The National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs reports that half of the people killed by anti-LGBT violence were transgender; 53 percent of anti-LGBT hate-crime victims were also people of color.
“As we bring visibility to ourselves and to our struggles, there’s also more visibility for those who hate us,” said vigil speaker Naiymah Sanchez. “I didn’t know any of those women personally, but I knew them spiritually because I don’t know when someone might try to take my life because of who I am.”
The ballroom of the William Way Community Center was standing-room-only as friends, families, community leaders and neighbors came out to also remember the eight transgender women who have been murdered so far in 2017. Minster Kandee Love sang as the speakers lit candles and recited the victims’ names. Finally, they called for more support and visible outrage from the gay community.
Activist Sharron Cooks put it bluntly: “We don’t get enough support from the gay and lesbian community. This is what angers me. What angers me is the lack of support around trans women of color. What angers me is the lack of financial and social support around trans women of color who face violence every day of their lives.
“I am tired and I am angry, and I am tired of asking nicely for support for the trans community and support for trans women of color,” added Cooks.
Going to the police is often out of the question for transgender people. The Office for Victims of Crime estimates that trans people are 15-percent more likely to experience sexual violence while in police custody, and that number jumps to 32 percent if the individual is African-American.
Several of the speakers cited the average lifespan for a trans woman: just 34. As Cooks put it, “I’m 39, I’m supposed to be dead already. I’m living on borrowed time and trying to make the best of it.”
“Each and every one of us has a moral and ethical obligation to each other because we are members of the community and because we are human beings,” she said. “Where is the leadership here tonight?”
Judicial candidate Henry Sias and District Attorney candidate Larry Krasner attended the vigil, suggesting an opportunity for more progressive and trans-inclusive leadership after the May 13 election.
“We need our allies to put their bodies on the line, just like [trans women of color] have been doing for decades and decades,” said activist Milan Sherry, who also called for support for sex workers and trans women who experience employment discrimination. “We all know sex work is real and many of us avoid the conversation and maybe we look down upon those who engage in it.”
Morrison said that when she first started planning the vigil, she anticipated a small and intimate gathering, like the March 6 direct action held by the Black and Brown Workers Collective. But, after more than 1,000 people responded to the event on Facebook, she pushed the event back a week to find a bigger venue. In that week, the eighth woman, Alphonza Watson, was killed in Baltimore.
The other seven women were: Mesha Caldwell, Jamie Lee Wounded Arrow, Jojo Striker, Jaquarrius Holland, Keke Collier, Chyna Doll Dupree and Ciara McElveen.
Morrison closed out the evening by saying, “We just want to feel safe, we want to feel included and we want people to understand.”
She also suggested that anyone who wanted to be an ally to the trans community could donate to Sisterly L.O.V.E.’s “Welcome Home Kits” for recently incarcerated trans women, get involved with prison-support organization Hearts on a Wire or donate to several of the fundraisers to defray funeral costs for Chyna Doll Gibson (https://www.gofundme.com/memorial-fund-for-chyna-doll-gibson/donate), Jamie Lee Wounded Arrow (https://www.gofundme.com/jamie-wounded-arrows-funeral) and Jojo Striker (https://www.gofundme.com/help-cover-funeral-costs-for-jojo).