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The 17th annual Transgender Day of Remembrance service in Detroit took place Nov. 17 at Metropolitan Community Church of Detroit. About 90 people came out for the service, which included the reading of the names of the 487 trans individuals lost to violence globally over the past year.
“Every year we pass out tea candles,” said Michelle Fox-Phillips, co-founder and executive director of the Gender-Identity Network Alliance. “Tonight we don’t have enough. We have 416. So we’ll just have to make do.”
The goal of the service was not just to mourn the loss of life but to “celebrate their lives for who they really were,” said Fox-Phillips. “We are celebrating not only those who have been murdered but those who have committed suicide due to anti-transgender hate, bullying, etc.”
But such celebration was sometimes difficult throughout the somber ceremony as names were read and poems and songs were shared.
“People do not just try to kill us,” Fox-Phillips said. “They try to erase our existence. Once we are murdered we get dumped into garbage cans, we get burned, we get dismembered.
“We are living in perilous times,” Fox-Phillips continued. “We have a racist president and an equally racist attorney general. We need to be more vigilant and keep everyone safe.”
Making the service more poignant was the fact that a trans woman in Detroit, who goes by the name of Chocolate, was shot near Woodward Avenue and Six Mile Road in the early morning hours of Friday. At the time of the service she remained in serious condition in Henry Ford Hospital.
“I’m hoping that she makes it,” said Bre’ Campbell, executive director of the Trans Sistas of Color Project. “I would like to say I’m tired but I think I’m beyond that. It’s very hard to do this work with very little support. And it’s moments like this that are reminders that there is more work to do.”
That works includes embracing trans individuals in the community, Campbell said.
“I would challenge people today when we hear the names of the women we’ve lost that we still remember the girls that are still here,” she said. “It’s very challenging to look into the eyes of black trans women and tell them there’s nothing more that I can do.”
Jeynce Mizrahi Poindexter, transgender victim’s advocate for Equality Michigan, said the Day of Remembrance service is not something she looks forward to.
“This isn’t the premier event of the year,” Mizrahi-Poindexter said. “This isn’t something you get gussied up to come to. It’s not something you really look forward to because of what it represents. But we’re here to honor the ones we’ve lost and to love on them and to remember them because often we are in a society and operating system that intentionally forgets us.”
Mizrahi-Poindexter said that since she joined Equality Michigan last year, she has found that she must travel to uncomfortable places to do the work that is most profound.
“All spaces aren’t welcoming and we know that” she said. “But I choose to go into those spaces because that’s where the real work will happen…You have to go on the other side, and in many instances that’s crossing Eight Mile, and crossing populations and regions. Because this is not just a white trans woman thing, it’s not just a black trans woman thing. When they discredit us, when they don’t acknowledge us, when we’re murdered, we’re all bunched in the same group.”
On a brighter note, Michelle Brown spoke of the recent success trans individuals had in the elections that took place earlier this month.
“We saw trans people who were living openly elected in Virginia, California, Georgia, Pennsylvania and Minnesota,” Brown said. “But you know each one of those that we can be so proud of, we have to remember that each one of those 487 souls had that potential to make a change.”
The Transgender Day of Remembrance was founded by trans activist Gwendolyn Ann Smith in 1999. It started as a vigil to honor the loss of Rita Hester, a trans woman who was killed in 1998. The first service commemorated all the trans people lost to violence since Hester’s death. The concept grew quickly and today is commemorated around the world. To date, Hester’s murder, like most anti-trans murders, remains unsolved.