During the week of November 14-20, individuals and organizations around the country participated in Transgender Awareness Week to help raise the visibility of transgender and gender non-conforming people and address the issues these communities face. The Dignity/New York community commemorated Transgender Day of Remembrance by honoring the memory of those whose lives were lost in acts of anti-transgender violence at our community liturgies. DignityUSA Board President Lewis Speaks-Tanner said, "All of us must do everything in power to ensure trans people feel safe. Even one death is too many—no one should die for expressing their gender identity."
At the LGBT Center in Greenwich Village, our community gathered along with people from all over the world who joined us from their "House Church" at our Come To The Table: Catholic Worship for All liturgy. Many of us returned to join our evening community at St. John’s in the Village.
There, we were honored to have Melissa Sklarz. Melissa was the first trans person elected to office in 1999 and is currently a Director at the Transgender Legal Defense and Education Fund (in New York).
Melissa Sklarz reminded us during her homily that “We have Orlando every year:
- Women of color continue to struggle disproportionately.
- I hope that this list (of those we remember tonight) will diminish.
- We carry their names in our heart as we move forward.
- We stand on the shoulders of others, and someday others will have ours to stand on.
- Love, the answer is always love.
- You inspire people, as we become empowered in our city, so that our next generation will empower others.”
Melissa then called out the names on her list with how they were murdered. It was haunting knowing that we would name them again in a few moments.
During our Prayer of the Faithful, we followed the custom Christians of El Salvador developed to express their faith and their resistance when people were murdered or disappeared. They called out their names at liturgy followed by “¡Presente!” which means “You are Here”! Solemnly, our litany of names of those murdered this past year due to transphobic hatred and violence called out “¡Presente!” after each name.
Joining us at liturgy was Sara Davis Buechner who received a warm welcome back to the Dignity/New York community after being in Vancouver, Canada for many years. The following day, on her Facebook page she wrote, “I joined some illustrious company at the evening Catholic Mass celebrated by New York City's DignityUSA Chapter in Greenwich Village. Directly to my left behind the altar there are two legendary civil rights activists: Melissa Sklarz, Development Director of the Transgender Legal Defense & Education Fund; and Brendan Fay, co-founder of the Civil Marriage Trail Project. They are giants of the LGBTQI community and heroes to me. The cards on the altar feature the names and photographs of 24 transgender people murdered in hate crimes this past year. Of course we may all think "there but for the Grace of God," but it is not enough simply to remember, or to be grateful at Thanksgiving time. In this age when bigotry, xenophobia, and misogyny stand poised to corrupt the highest offices of our Democracy, we must redouble our efforts to celebrate, honor, and protect the very diversity that gives us strength. The fundamental meaning of American Freedom depends upon our voices and deeds, now.”
Tim, a Dignity/New York member shared this reflection about the day:
“The two Dignity/NewYork liturgies that focused on the remembrance of transgender people who had been killed or abused in the last year touched me more deeply than I expected.
When I was 24 in 1972, I was introduced to the demimonde of transgender women in Seattle, Washington. Many worked as prostitutes on Pike St. to survive. Some had sexual reassignment surgeries paid for by mafia owners of topless bars, who expected these girls to perform in their “clubs.” I saw how difficult their lives were. The choices and lifestyles of these trans women scared me, but I admired their resilience, tenacity, and sense of community.
Part of my fears arose from memories of my own gender questions and confusion as a gay adolescent, in a southern state that had clearly delineated roles for boys and girls. Before I understood the conflict between “binary expectations” and “gender fluidity,” I struggled with impulses, desires, and behaviors that were only allowed to girls. Queer was clearly a pejorative assignation. I think this was common for many young gay people in the 1950’s thru ‘70’s. Of course, long before that as well. The pain of my personal ambivalences seemed to recede when I found myself in a loving, gay relationship. Caring for another person was all that mattered.
But in Seattle I began to understand that love does not cure everyone’s suffering. The people that continuously “dressed up” and put themselves at risk by illegally hustling on the streets, or in bars, seemed tragic to me, forced to accept society’s only role for them.
All these years later, I thought transgender people were beginning to see progress in gaining simple human rights and protections, and a modicum of acceptance, understanding, and dignity. But this recent presidential election campaign, particularly on the far right, has unleashed the ever-present demons of hatred and intolerance of people who do not conform, particularly for people of color and in poverty. The legal struggles in North Carolina and Indiana, and the election of an equal opportunity bully as President, has sent me and many other non-binary queer people into a tailspin.
At Come to the Table’s liturgy we prayed for particular transgender victims of violence, with deep sorrow. The Dignity Mass included the impressive Melissa Sklarz who gave a powerful, knowledgeable, inspiring call to action and perseverance in her homily. I began to feel a glimmer of hope, and resolved to secure rights and protections for this special community of transgender people.
For the saints we know of, but not of their names, and those who died unknown. ‘¡Presente!’
For the full memorial list, see The Transgender Day of Remembrance website: https://tdor.info/
For a list of resources about Transgender issues see the websites listed below.