A Time of Remembrance
On March 22, 2017, only eight blocks from her home in Baltimore, Alphonza Watson was shot in the stomach and died shortly afterward. This 38-year-old transwoman was killed because she was transgender. Her mother said that Alphonza was “the sunshine of our family,” and a caring person who loved to cook and garden.
Among the twenty-four transgender persons killed in 2017, seventeen were transwomen of color. Each year, they bear the burden of being the most represented demographic among those who are killed simply because they are transgender. This is not meant to diminish the others who are killed because they are transgender.
Jamie Lee Wounded Arrow, a transwoman who was part of the Oglala Lakota tribe in South Dakota, considered herself to be “two-spirit.” She was ready to lead outreach to other transgender persons among Native Americans. This term came about in the 1990’s by Native Americans to describe those who have both masculine and feminine spirits within them.
Ally Steinfeld, an engaging seventeen-year-old, had just started to transition four months earlier. She appealed to the kindness of those around her to help her through her transition by accepting her. Ally died a very cruel death, having been stabbed and her body criminally mistreated. The details surrounding her death are too difficult to share, but the four people charged with her murder will have to face the consequences.
On Monday, November 20, people will gather across the country on Transgender Day of Remembrance to mourn, honor and remember those who have been killed in 2017 for being transgender. This is an occasion that is somber, but important, naming the names of those killed for being who they knew themselves to be. But there may be a time soon in which we add other names to this list.
Added to this list should probably be those transmales and transfemales who were not killed by another, but took their own lives due to the horrific, transphobic actions of others. Suicide within the transgender community is much higher than that of the general public. A parent who did not support his child’s transition was granted custody of his transgender son. The son committed suicide within two weeks of the custody hearing, unable to live with his condemning father, torn away from his affirming mother. An eight-year-old transgender girl is beat up on the bus on her way to school, at the hand of a girl four years older than she. The eight-year-old is not able to convince the school counselor to take action. She goes home after school and hangs herself.
Forty-one percent of transgender youth attempt suicide, compared to the five percent of the greater population.
It is fortunate that statistics are kept on murders of transgender persons each year. But the numbers of those killed continues to rise each year. Please remember them. They were good people. They met a very untimely and undeserved death. We light candles each November 20 to honor them.
So let’s take a moment to celebrate the remarkable achievements of our transgender sisters and brothers in the recent election. A hearty word of congratulations goes out to Danica Roem, the first open transgender person to be elected to a state legislature in the country! This was a particularly pivotal election, given that Danica’s opponent was a firmly entrenched Republican transphobe. Incumbent Robert Marshall had tried to enact an extremely restrictive “bathroom bill.” During this campaign, Marshall never addressed Danica with female pronouns. Misgendering, as this is called, is extremely insulting to those whose gender identity is opposite that of their birth gender. But Roem stayed on topic in her campaign, and it carried her to victory.
Congrats to Andrea Jenkins, the first transgender woman of color elected to the city council of a major U.S. city, this being Minneapolis. Congrats to Tyler Titus, the first open transgender person elected to any office in Pennsylvania. His election to the Erie School Board is a remarkable, but natural, progression of his public school advocacy in Erie. Congrats to Lisa Middleton, the first transgender person elected to a non-judicial office in California. She was elected to the Palm Springs City Council.
There is another Day of Remembrance on the calendar. World AIDS Day is on December 1. It is a day to remember those who have died of AIDS. Yes, people still die from AIDS. Join us, and march along Rehoboth Avenue on the way to All Saints’ Episcopal Church on Olive Avenue.
There is far too much death all around us. Whether it comes to us at a church service in rural Texas, or as a result of a terrible hurricane in Puerto Rico, or in the ashes of wildfires in California, death beats on our door constantly. All the politicians are quick with their tweets sharing their thoughts and prayers on behalf of those who died, and for the families of the survivors. In the midst of grief, we must affirm life. We must tell the world that better times await. That affirmation gives us hope for a better world, and better people in that world.