Today marks the tenth annual Transgender Day of Remembrance, a day created to remember and honor all people who have lost their lives to anti-transgender violence. The event was originally held on the first anniversary of the murder of Rita Hester, an out transgender woman who was killed on November 28, 1998, in Boston, Massachusetts. Rita’s murder, like many anti-transgender murder cases, remains unsolved.
Diane Schroer is a highly-decorated veteran, transgender activist and plaintiff in our successful employment discrimination lawsuit Schroer v. Library of Congress. She spoke at a Transgender Day of Remembrance event in Chicago organized by Cyndi Richards, Illinois Gender Advocates and the Center on Halstead. The following is an excerpt from her remarks.
I would wager we have not all been personally touched by a hate crime, but we have all been touched by one of the all too frequent suicides in our community. Therefore, this list [of victims of anti-transgender violence] should be ten-fold as long when the names of all the other victims of hatred are added to its rolls. Not in any way to diminish the suffering and needless tragedy of hate crimes, but rather to paint a more accurate picture of the impact of hatred and intolerance on our community. The victims who felt no alternative but to take their own lives as the only possible solution to a world that can be terribly cold and unforgiving of violating its norms. If we succeed in nothing else, we must change this.
We must convince ourselves, along with society, that it is not a sin, against God or man to be transgender.
While some are born to greatness, for the vast majority of us, we have within us the resources to produce greatness when confronted with mere timing, circumstance, and opportunity. We can, each and every one of us, “rise to the occasion.”
What I have observed, is that we often fall prey to our own worst fears and predestine ourselves to a self-imposed brand of mediocrity and acceptance of the status quo. The bright spot is that it usually takes very little, sometimes only reminding ourselves that while taking a stand may seem like great risk, it often takes little and can have significant consequences…
Solemn events are, by their very nature, powerful and moving. When you leave here this evening, you will feel, certainly, angry and compelled. Possibly, somewhat empty and helpless. But hopefully, refreshed, resolute, and empowered. Those we are remembering tonight would demand nothing less.
Let me ask my question once again: “Who speaks for the dead?” For clearly the dead must have voice, all the more especially when the value of their life was so carelessly diminished, and society and force of circumstance move to erase their very memory.
The undeniable truth is that you must speak for the dead, and simultaneously for the living, for now is our time. We have moved from the agenda of Jerry Springer, to Larry King, Oprah, Barbara Walters and, one hopes, President-elect Obama.
If a Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense and a four-star general are willing to publicly testify for me at trial, then this is our time. In the not too distant future we will have a renewed Hate Crimes effort, and I believe a renewed ENDA.
But time and tide do not wait.
Just as surely as society wishes to forget the names and lives of the dead we remember here tonight, we must surely be their advocate. And yes, small things matter. What are the small things you can do?
Challenge those around you.
It is not necessary to leave the closet or seem outlandish to say in conversation to one’s mates, “I believe that people should enjoy the basic freedom to love who they choose and express themselves as they wish, because life is just too short.”
How easy is it to say, “How about a little tolerance and acceptance.” Prejudice is just one of the easy solutions of a small mind. Challenge people to exercise their intellect and not their prejudice… Simply be a positive role model of acceptance in your daily lives, and take the moment to occasionally challenge others to repudiate intolerance.
Equality is not a liberal ideal. It should not be consigned to the platform of a single political party. It is a prerequisite to basic humanity.
Let us resolve a few very simple things tonight. Let us first and foremost agree that little things matter, and your own commitment to do a little thing when the opportunity arises, matters most…
Let us craft a society, a world, where people are free to express their gender orientation and gender identity as they feel from their spirit. Let us craft a society, a world, where people are free from threat and fear of hatred just because of who they are, how they look, or whom they choose to love. Let us craft a society, a world, where the measure of a person’s merit is not their birth gender or sex of their partner, but their energy toward the task at hand, work ethic, intellect, and integrity.
And for the heaven’s sake, and the sake of future generations, let us craft a society, a world, where a 14 year old trans-person does not feel compelled to take their own life, because they don’t “fit in.”
Because you and each and every little thing you do are the transgender community.
Because you and each and every little thing you do are the transgender movement.
Because you and each and every little thing you do are the future . Of our society, of our world, and of our civil rights.
To learn more about how you can fight discrimination toward transgender people, visit the transgender section of Get Busy, Get Equal or www.gender.org.