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FERNDALE – As the names and stories of transgender murder victims cycled on video screens at each end of the room, over a hundred people mourned together in the Metropolitan Community Church of Detroit’s ninth annual Transgender Day of Remembrance Service and Candlelight Vigil on Nov. 20. They held hands for an opening prayer given by Rev. Mark Bidwell to remember the people who have died because of transphobia so that “parents, children, spouses, friends and each of us are connected to them – somehow, some way.”
This year alone there have been over 118 reported murders of trans people world wide, including local Foxy Ivy, who was shot in the back of the head in Detroit on May 25. People listened in silence as the names of over 300 victims from the past 30 years and their tragic stories were read by Jessica Manko and Tina Seitz. Some of the crimes were so horrific that it brought audience members to tears.
Several speakers shed light on the problem of violence and discrimination against trans people. Michelle Fox-Phillips of Transgender Detroit read a statement from the family of Angie Zapata, who was murdered in 2008. Earlier this year, Zapata’s killer was the first person convicted under a gender identity-inclusive hate crimes statute. The conviction was a victory for those in the trans community, but also a somber reminder of the work left to be done to protect transpeople from harm.
“Every day and night my mother has to deal with the experience of having to bury a child,” she read. “A part of the family was stolen from us.”
Brooke Adams, secretary of the board for KICK – the agency for LGBT African-Americans, spoke about her involvement with the planning of this year’s Day of Remembrance event, and how much she had to learn about trans people. “I learned that trans people face employment discrimination at every step of the process,” she said. “I learned that trans people can be denied health care. … I learned that for trans people, something as basic of a human need as going to the bathroom can be a dangerous situation.”
Adams said she was also shocked to learn that a transgender person has a 1 in 12 chance of being murdered, while a non-trans person has a 1 in 18,000 chance. She spoke about the prosecution in the Zapata case, and about how this year President Obama signed the first Federal Hate Crimes bill that included gender identity protection.
Rev. Rick Beatie of Renaissance Unity Church also read a proclamation by Michigan Governor Jennifer Granholm naming Nov. 20 Transgender Day of Remembrance in Michigan in honor of the citizens that have lost their lives due to hate crimes. “Transgender Day of Remembrance serves as a way to publicly mourn and recognize more than 300 individuals around the world who, since 1970, lost their lives and might otherwise be forgotten.” The proclamation goes on to say “Whereas, transgender people, who often are undeservedly maligned and misunderstood, contribute greatly to our state’s rich diversity and prosperity.” It also recognized the creation of Transgender Michigan by Rachel Crandall in 1997.
The event raised $320 for the Ruth Ellis Center and Truth Fellowship Chruch, and plaques in remembrance of six Michigan victims were presented to Triangle Foundation, Affirmations LGBT community center and The Ruth Ellis Center.