“Today, we remember and honor the courageous people in this world who were murdered, because they had the audacity to be their true, authentic selves.”
Stephanie Mott, founder and executive director of the Kansas Statewide Transgender Education Program, spoke these words at Topeka’s National Transgender Day of Remembrance event last night. Her sentiments reflected those from across the globe as many joined together at events throughout the week to remember and honor all the people who have been murdered because of being, or suspected of being, transgendered.
Mott’s thoughts were shared by Sue Gerth, instructor of engineering and board member of K-STEP, as part of K-State’s National Transgender Day of Remembrance event in the K-State Student Union Courtyard. The event was hosted by LGBT and Allies, and emceed by Kara Baker, a 2011 K-State alumna of microbiology and lab technician in plant pathology.
As a transgender woman, Baker said she feels both the benefit and the weight of the day.
“It’s a weird duality,” Baker said. “I’m glad there’s a day to remember transgendered people and to educate all of what we have to go to. But, also it’s a super depressing event, and it’s sad we have to read so many names every year. I hope for one year we won’t have any names to read.”
The day of remembrance marks the 15th anniversary of the murder of Rita Hester, a transgender woman who was killed in her apartment in Allston, Mass. in 1998. Since then, people around the world have gathered to pay their respects to those who were taken from this world before their time.
In a graphic created by the Trans Murder Monitoring project, Brazil has the highest reported murder rates of people who are, or are thought to be transgender. The country, which is viewed for being extremely accepting toward the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community, accounts for at least 95 of the reported killings of transgender people between Nov. 2012 to Oct. 2013. 238 killings were reported in total in the past year from 26 countries worldwide. It seemed the correlation between having a strong LGBT community and high transgender murder rates holds true, with Mexico and the U.S. being second and third respectfully.
Gerth stepped in as the keynote speaker, as inclement weather prevented Mott from commuting to Manhattan herself. Gerth began her speech with a quote from Mott.
“We gather together, and we wonder why,” Gerth said, quoting Mott. “We lean on each other and those who stand with us, and we cry. We hurt. We scream. Through the tears and the anger, we somehow understand that hate is not the answer to hate. And so we love. As best we can.”
Gerth said how for those who know transgender people, every week is transgender awareness week.
“Is there any week that’s not transgender week?” Gerth asked. “Is there any time we are able to forget?”
Gerth spoke about the struggles of two of her friends. The pair is seen as a same-sex couple in the eyes of the Army, which was just recently recognized on Sept. 3 after the repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act on June 26. What the Army does not know is the female soldier out on the field, currently stationed in Afghanistan living in a tent and eating nothing but Meals Ready to Eat, is actually a transgender man.
“He’s out in a tent somewhere, bravely serving his country, but as the woman they think he is and not the man he actually is,” Gerth said.
There are many cases of this in all branches for the Armed Forces. Since transgender people are not recognized by the Department of Defense, anyone found out to be in transition can be put through an investigation and potentially discharged. A slew of soldiers march for the freedoms of this country, but do not experience the freedom of being who they truly are.
Gerth also spoke about her transgender daughter, the reason she was a part of the event.
“I have a beautiful 31-year-old daughter, who is the light of my life,” Gerth said.
Gerth’s daughter came out to her five years ago. When she first approached Gerth, she said she was bisexual.
“I think she was testing the waters,” Gerth said.
After finally stating she was in fact transgender, Gerth said she accepted her fully.
“Many parents go through a stage of grieving for the loss of their son or daughter when they come out as transgender, but I never did,” Gerth said. “For 10 years, my daughter was depressed, and I didn’t know why. When she came out, it wasn’t a loss but a gain. Unfortunately, she has three siblings that won’t accept her.”
To have any conflict between siblings is hard on parents, but when your children do not acknowledge the existence of their sibling, it can be simply heartbreaking. Gerth said she has to have separate holidays just to accommodate them all. Despite this, she said she finds hope and passion through her pain.
“I can’t not love them because they do not accept her than I can not love her because of their beliefs,” Gerth said. “I’m hoping that someday, the fact that I love them, and they see how much I love my daughter, they’ll change. I hold out hope for my family to be together, and I hold out hope for the rest of the world.”
The conclusion of the event listed the 239 names of reported transgender murders globally, many of them listed as “no name.” Not all of the names were transgender people, but every single one was killed because of trans-phobia. Each name was read along with the country they were from.
Every name seemed to echo off the tiled floor, ricocheting through the crowd and into the air. Hanging there, like a dark, sunless sky stripping any joy from the courtyard. But what truly hit home was the amount of times “no name” was said. There was a country called, but not a name. Just a black space where someone’s name should be, another John or Jane Doe. Each time “no name” was called, a jagged blade slipped a little deeper into one’s heart, bleeding out for that unknown person. Person after person wiped away tears as unknown name after unknown name was listed. While people tried to not succumb to tears, the names just continued to assault ears and hearts.
While there is an overwhelming amount of trans-phobic crimes committed in the world every day, there is no telling just how bad it really is. There are many crimes that went unnoticed or misrepresented in media. The number of John and Jane Does continue to pile up, and as do the number of “no names” read to be remembered. What’s truly frightening is the number of countries that did not have any data represented in the Trans Murder Monitoring project’s graphic. Canada, Africa and Australia did not have a single report of a transgender person being murdered, along with Russia and most of Europe.
Like Baker, people can only hope that next year’s list of names will dwindle down in size, as well as the total number of transgender murders globally. Until then, more names will be read and more people will be remembered.