It was an evening of sadness, mixed with forgiveness and love, for the hundreds gathered inside D.C.’s Metropolitan Community Church Tuesday night.
Called together to memorialize those transgender individuals who had fallen victim to violence, the audience frequently cheered, cried out and applauded after each speech, song or performance. Among the members of the audience were the families of Nana Boo Mack, who was killed in 2009, and Deoni Jones, also known as JaParker, who was stabbed to death in February.
An annual event held globally on Nov. 20, the Transgender Day of Remembrance has often served as a rallying cry for LGBT activists who seek to lessen anti-trans violence in their communities. In D.C., the day has also been coupled in recent years with a Transgender Day of Action.
In 2011, that action took the form of a protest decrying a perceived lack of government response to a spike in anti-trans hate crimes. This year’s Day of Action was a more subdued Nov. 15 forum on improving transgender people’s health.
Tuesday’s memorial event featured speakers from various community organizations, several musical performances, a video presentation and an ”inspirational performance” involving lip-syncing to powerful musical numbers. Organizers of the event also honored Mayor Vincent Gray (D) and his director of the Department of Employment Services, Lisa Mallory, for their advocacy on behalf of the transgender community.
”The people in my cabinet know, if you can’t get with the program, and you can’t understand what is important to me, then you need to find a job somewhere else,” Gray said in a speech highlighting his administration’s efforts to provide greater opportunities to transgender individuals. He added that as mayor he instructed his subordinates to take action on various initiatives important to the LGBT community because ”it is the right thing to do.” He received a standing ovation for his remarks.
But the memorial service also served as a catharsis for those who lost friends and family to anti-trans violence. D.C. Fire and Emergency Medical Services (FEMS) Chief Kenneth Elerbe offered a moving apology for past mistakes made by his department, particularly for its role in the death of Tyra Hunter, a transgender woman, in 1995. In that case, an FEMS officer stopped treatment on Hunter, who had been struck by a car, after discovering she had male genitalia, taunting her instead. Though Elerbe wasn’t the head of FEMS at the time, he expressed remorse for the tragedy and asked for forgiveness on behalf of the department.
”As chief, I take responsibility for what happens today, and happened yesterday,” Elerbe said. ”I’m sorry for what happened and we are committed to doing better for this community and throughout the city.”
Other speakers talked of redoubling the community’s commitment to fighting for transgender rights and applying pressure to make stopping anti-trans violence a priority.
As the service drew to a close, organizers asked the families of Mack and Jones to address the crowd.
Echoing the words of the Rev. Abena McCray, who asked that those assembled show more love to those important to them, Jardine Jones, the mother of Deoni, aka JaParker, summed up the importance of coming together after terrible tragedies.
”I’m going to support you all to the end,” Jones told the audience. ”Because I know who my son was and what he meant.”