Vigil Honors Lost Transgender Lives

Community marks 10th annual Transgender Day of Remembrance

Following a year that saw a spike in reported anti-transgender attacks, the Washington-area LGBT community held a vigil at the Metropolitan Community Church of Washington, D.C., Nov. 20 to mark the internationally recognized Transgender Day of Remembrance, which memorializes people killed due to anti-transgender hatred, bias or violence.

The overarching theme of the vigil, now at its 10-year milestone in the District, was ”That my living not be in vain.” In keeping with the theme, the vigil fluctuated between two separate moods: one prayerful, solemn and somber, with moments of deep reflection; and another loud, boisterous and celebratory, as the Agape Praise Choir of Unity Fellowship Church sang hymns, audience members stood and danced amid the rows of chairs, and speaker Ellen Johnson even spoke in tongues.

During the vigil, organizers and speakers read aloud the names of local victims from years past, as well as all known international victims for the November 2010 to November 2011 calendar year as Rev. Abena McCray, pastor of Unity Fellowship Church DC, slowly poured out a pitcher of water. After each name, the audience responded, ”We remember you.”

In the solemn moments, many speakers used the opportunity to pray for an end to violence directed against members of the transgender community. Jessica Xavier, one of the vigil’s organizers, asked those present to remember the basic humanity of those who lost their lives to violence.

”The fact is that these were brothers and sisters, family members, friends, people of faith in their communities,” she said. ”And quite often, as is the case in this crazy world of ours, they get taken from us. But they’re not martyrs. They didn’t die for a cause. They weren’t a member of any political movement. They were human beings, just like all of us.”

Jeffrey Richardson, director of the Mayor’s Office of GLBT Affairs, tied in Mayor Vincent Gray’s oft-repeated campaign theme of ”One City” to advocate for greater inclusion of transgender people.

”Mayor Gray calls upon all residents of the District of Columbia to join us in saluting our transgender brothers and sisters, and calling for an end to the violence against transgender members of our community,” Richardson said. ”Tonight let us not allow these precious souls to go forgotten, but let us honor their lives by doing all that we can, in every way that we can, to rid our city and our country of the hatred, the self-hatred and the anger that took their lives.”

But in keeping with the more upbeat parts of the vigil, other speakers encouraged the audience to harness their sadness and anger and transform it into positive action.

”As you know, we’ve had a challenging year,” said Jason Terry of the DC Trans Coalition. ”But we know the horizon of justice is ahead of us. We can see it, and we’re getting there.”

Local longtime activist Christopher Dyer invoked recently deceased gay rights leader Frank Kameny in his short address.

”You know, Frank Kameny said that gay is good,” Dyer said. ”Well, trans is good. LGBT is good. And it’s all on us to make it better.”

John Riley is the local news reporter for Metro Weekly. He can be reached at jriley@metroweekly.com