by Nusrat Ventimigia
So Thanksgiving is nearing again. Apart from contentious historical origins, Thanksgiving has come to represent a time for coming together with loved ones. Don’t get me wrong, eating my way into a food coma is certainly one of my favorite parts of Thanksgiving, but perhaps even better is the time spent around those whom I consider family who offer a respite from the stress of daily life, and sometimes troubles that have made for a difficult year. What better time then for the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community to offer support to one another after a very challenging time.
It’s been a difficult year for everyone, particularly for those working toward equality and for those who face the consequences of unfair treatment every day. We have witnessed one attack after another from Lansing, the latest in the form of state Rep. Tom McMillin’s effort to void nondiscrimination policies for LGBT residents that have been enacted by cities around our state. It’s an attack on the democratic process and on LGBT individuals.
The doom and gloom continues, with burgeoning complaints of discrimination, harassment and violence. Last month, it was a transgender woman from Flint who was groped, verbally assaulted and publicly humiliated by a group of people after she was forced to use a men’s restroom at a bus stop. There are open and ongoing cases from Detroit to Jackson, from Dearborn Heights to Marquette. And beyond the reports of violence, we have the reports of discrimination. A lesbian couple reported harassment from apartment complex managers because of their sexual orientation. A lesbian woman is sexually harassed because of her orientation to the point where she must quit her job, which she desperately needs to feed her family. These stories make up the numbers. So far in 2011, we have seen 64 complaints of discrimination in housing, employment or public accommodations. We have seen 159 hate crimes and five deaths from murder or suicide. There is also violence within the community, with 24 cases of intimate partner violence reported to us this year alone. Another snapshot of the problem: despite there being 69 shelters offering services to survivors of intimate partner violence, there are only two known domestic violence shelters in the entire state that will accept non-transgender men or transgender women. The numbers are startling, and should serve as a wake-up call. There is bias and bigotry out there, and we see it everyday.
But there is also support, and there are people who are ready to truly come together as a community against the violence, against the discrimination and against the bigotry and hatred. There are many who are doing the difficult work necessary to share resources and prevent violence. Some are old friends, like the Michigan Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence. But there are also new partners, like the FBI and the U.S. Attorney’s office. And these partners want to hear your voice. These partners want to share the work they have been doing, and they want to know what they can do better.
So this Thanksgiving, take a break, and have a rest. Eat too much turkey (or tofurkey), but don’t forget that this holiday can be a reminder to spend time with loved ones. And also remember that there is a family in Michigan who could use your support. Show it by coming to the Transgender Day of Remembrance at Central United Methodist Church in downtown Detroit on Friday, Nov. 18. Hear Sylvia Guerrero speak about how she lost her young transgender daughter to hate, but gained more of a family than she ever thought possible as a result of her activism. Or show it by coming to Wayne State University Law School on Nov. 30 and hear from openly gay professor Peter Hammer, Director of the Damon Keith Center for Civil Rights, Barbara McQuade, U.S. Attorney’s Office and FBI civil rights investigators about what they are doing about hate crimes and to share your input. And don’t forget to give, whether it is your time or your money, to support your family, to advocate for it, and to advocate for yourself.