Remembering and Celebrating

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By Kaylia Metcalfe

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This month marks the 16th year where groups from all over the world will gather together on Nov. 20 and participate in TDoR events.

TDoR, or Transgender Day of Remembrance, is a day set aside to memorialize those in the transgender community who have lost their lives, either as a result of suicide or who have been killed due to transphobia. Since its inception in 1998, TDoR events have taken place in more than 20 countries and are regularly celebrated in close to 200 U.S. cities.

Here in Fresno, the local grassroots organization Trans-E-Motion will be hosting an event as it has done for the past 13 years. Again this year, the free event will be a mix of celebration and solemn bereavement.

This year, there is a lot to celebrate, for while the number of transgender community members who have died is still high, the issues of transgendered people have never before been so much in the social limelight and benefiting from so much support. With more celebrities coming out as trans or trans friendly, and with high-profile transitions being in the public eye generating conversation and educating through exposure, the stage is set for trans issues to move to the forefront of the fight for equality.

And let’s not forget the recent progressive movement of California state laws that has been slowly but surely paving the way for full transgender equality. From bills that would make it easier for a person to change his/her name and gender identification to a bill signed into law in August that will allow transgender youth access to opposite-sex programs and facilities, the horizon is hopeful.

Of course, there is still far to go for the transgender community. Some sobering numbers (from GLAAD):

  • According to a study from the Anti-Violence Project (AVP), 40% of anti-LGBT murder victims in 2011 were transgender women.
  • In the same study, the AVP found that transgender people of color were 28% more likely to experience physical violence compared to the rest of the sample of LGBT and HIV-affected people.
  • In a report from the National Transgender Discrimination Survey (NTDS) conducted by the National Gay & Lesbian Task Force and the National Center for Transgender Equality, transgender people faced double the rate of unemployment as the general population.
  • The same NTDS report found that while discrimination was pervasive throughout the transgender sample, transgender people of color, and especially African-American transgender people, consistently fare worse than White respondents.
  • Sixty-three percent of transgender people in the NTDS report sample had experienced a serious act of discrimination, such as loss of a job due to bias, physical and sexual assault due to bias, homelessness because of gender identity/expression or bias-motivated denial of medical service.

Here in California, the political landscape is slightly optimistic. Most sections of California law prohibit discrimination based on a long list of protected classes, including gender, gender identity and sexual orientation. Transgender Californians are technically protected from discrimination when securing employment and housing, accessing government services and participating in state-funded activities. Transgender people are also protected under the state’s hate crime law. Of course, being technically protected and actually being able to live safely with full access and equality are two very different things. But, we should be glad that California has these sorts of protections on the books. Our state is one of the leaders when it comes to equality and antidiscrimination practices.

Doubtless, these issues of expectations and a more depressing reality will feature into this year’s TDoR event, but will be offset with the overwhelming support from the local Fresno community. A community outside of the transgender experience that is still willing to honor those who have died and celebrate the lives of those still with us.

In fact, this year marks the highest level of community support with a phenomenal number of sponsors including the American Indian Health Project, Community Link, Gay Central Valley, Holistic Healing Education and Wellness Center, Lions (both Fresno and Visalia), PFLAG of Fresno, the Stonewall Democrats, the Trevor Project and the Unitarian Universalist Church.

With a program featuring a mix of spoken word, music, poetry and speeches by community leaders, this year’s TDoR promises to carry on the tradition of reflection and hope. Again this year, community members have created artwork that will be showcased and sold; this year’s theme is Self-Empowerment and Gender Expression.

Again this year, people from all walks of life will share food and fellowship. We will also draw close together days before Thanksgiving and take stock in who and what we are as a community.

For many, being transgender is to always be reflective of the line between the past and the future, the inner and the outer, the private and the public. As TDoR events all over the world find a balance between the sadness and joy, they draw on the duality of introspection (awareness of inequality and loss) with the thrill of metamorphosis (becoming who you are destined to be). Really, there is no better tribute.

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Kaylia Metcalfe is a writer, blogger and activist in Fresno. She is a cofounder of Skeptics Without a Cause and serves on the Gay Central Valley Board of Directors. Her short story collection Links is available at www.amazon.com. Contact her at kayliametcalfe@gmail.com.