Overcoming Violence against Trans Community

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Transgender Day of Remembrance was founded in 1999 by Gwendolyn Ann Smith, a transgender activist and columnist for the Bay Area Reporter, to recognize the murder of transgender woman Rita Hester on November 28, 1998 in Allston, Massachusetts. For many in the LGBTQ+ community, Rita’s murder exposed the lack of media coverage and particularly, culturally sensitive and respectful media coverage that takes place when transgender members of our community lose their lives to violent hate crimes. The communal anger and grief that was experienced led to a candlelight vigil that was attended by 250 participants.  Eighteen years later, Transgender Day of Remembrance events occur on a national and international basis on November 20th each year, and often include a candlelight procession or vigil within the program.

On November 16th, 2017, San Mateo County Pride Center held San Mateo County’s second annual Transgender Day of Remembrance event. Transgender Day of Remembrance serves multiple purposes– this is a day for folks to come together and publicly mourn the lives of transgender siblings whose lives have been taken from us in brutal acts of violence and hatred, and a day for us to find strength within each other to mobilize and combat the violence our transgender community disproportionally faces. Transgender Day of Remembrance in San Mateo County included community speakers Alyss Swanson, Lexi Shimmers and Dr. Jei Africa, along with altars commemorating the lives of transgender siblings lost in 2016 and 2017, followed by a silent candlelight procession down El Camino Real to Central Park in San Mateo. During the procession, 25 participants traded their candles for signs that were each hand-painted by community members the afternoon prior with the names and ages of the lives we’ve lost in 2017. You can view the memorial we created for 2017 in the slideshow on this blog.

Without a day like this created by community members, we likely wouldn’t have any clue as to the extent of anti-transgender violence as these crimes still often go unreported, underreported, or the victims are misgendered or “dead-named”* by family, authorities and media outlets. The staggering truth is that with one month to go in 2017, we have already reached the highest level of reported fatal transgender hate crimes for any year on record in the United States. Recent studies such as the National Transgender Discrimination Survey have highlighted heightened levels of mental health concerns and substance use within the transgender community as a result of experiencing discrimination. Compared to 1.6% of the general U.S. population, 41% of respondents reported attempting suicide, with rates rising for those who lost a job due to bias (55%), were harassed/bullied in school (51%), had low household income, or were the victim of physical assault (61%) or sexual assault (64%). Respondents also expressed heightened use of substances to cope with discrimination, with these figures doubling for the one-fifth of respondents who experienced homelessness at some point in their lives.

What can we do as individuals to rise up against the deplorable discrimination and violence faced by our transgender community members? As clinicians, we need to make sure our transgender clients are receiving appropriate, culturally-sensitive services by promoting the collection of Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity (SOGI) data collection so we can gauge who we’re currently serving, and how. We need to further our education by way of training, connecting with community resources such as the San Mateo County Pride Center and normalizing this education in our offices by way of having what can be challenging conversations. As professionals in all fields, we need to make a conscious effort to hire transgender-identified folks and promote the inclusion of gender identity and gender expression in all non-discrimination policies. Last but never least, as community members, we need to speak up against the discrimination we witness in our professional and personal lives, and challenge those around us to learn more about transgender and gender-expansive identities so we can better understand and appreciate the true depth of diversity in our community.

This event was brought to the community by San Mateo County PRIDE InitiativeThe San Mateo County Pride CenterSan Mateo County Behavioral Health & Recovery Services Office of Diversity and Equity and the San Mateo County LGBTQ Commission.

For more information about LGBTQ+ community outreach in San Mateo County, contact Annette Pakhchian at apakhchian@smcgov.org or (650) 454-7083.  

To learn more of other LGBTQ+ affirming events visit the Pride Center’s full calendar here.

* “Dead-named/dead-naming” is a term used  by some in the transgender community to refer to instances in which the name that they were assigned at birth is used in reference to them, rather than using the name they have chosen for themselves and ask others to use.

Written by Annette Pakhchian, Office of Diversity and Equity LGBTQ+ Community Outreach