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Remembrance Brings Trans History to Life

Trans Candle
Trans Candle
Chase Strangio,
Deputy Director for Transgender Justice, ACLU LGBTQ & HIV Project
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November 20, 2017

Every year, the transgender, gender nonconforming, and non-binary communities come together on November 20 to remember and honor lives lost to anti-trans violence.

Each year, the number of deaths increases.

Each year, it is mostly brown and Black trans women and femmes who are taken from us.

Transgender Day of Remembrance has historically focused on the stories of those killed in individually-perpetrated violence — the kind of violence in which the attacker can be prosecuted. This is the type of violence that even Jeff Sessions can condemn. But as we watch so many in the trans community suffer and die from homelessness, family rejection, incarceration, unemployment, and suicide, remembrance should reverberate across the stories of deaths less often told.

Our community remembers not only the young Black women killed in the street, but also the young students lost to suicide, the incarcerated bodies cut off from health care, the elders struggling to maintain their housing and preserve their histories, the many lost from neglect in a society unwilling to include, serve, and abide us.

While Transgender Day of Remembrance is a day for grief, it can also be a day to reflect on the rich history of trans resistance, a history that lives on in our storytelling and in the hearts of trans elders who witnessed that history.

One of these elders, Flawless Sabrina, died early Saturday morning. Mother Flawless was an iconic drag queen and guide to generations of young LGBTQ people, many of whom found family and purpose in the bright path of her life and safe shelter in her apartment on Manhattan’s East Side.

Unlike so many we mourn today, Flawless lived 78 full years. She saw, inspired, and lifted up LGBTQ people around the world. She cried for those lost and devoted her life and soul to this community and taught so many of us to hold fast to our truths.

“Life is a learning situation…,” Flawless once recounted in an interview. “I think my grandmother was right, in that you can walk down Madison Avenue with a cow on your head if you do it with confidence. Accentuate the positive, illuminate the negative, and don’t mess with mystery in between. You’re the boss applesauce, believe in yourself without question.”

In memory of Flawless and many others now gone, remembrance can be a step toward building a future from the paths they illuminated.

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