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A determined crowd of nearly 80 fought the downtown congestion and masses headed to the televised Christmas tree lighting just down the street at Campus Martius to attend the 19th annual International Transgender Day of Remembrance service at Central United Methodist Church on Friday, Nov. 22. As always, the evening was somber as the names of those lost to fatal transgender violence across the world were read off. This year there were 311 of them, with 24 of them taking place here in the U.S. The Day of Remembrance was first celebrated in 1999 in San Francisco.
“I was volunteering at Affirmations and one of the youth coordinators showed me an article,” Michelle Fox-Phillips, the evening’s emcee, recalled. “So, in 2001 we held our own. The first vigil took place outside the old Affirmations building in the rain.”
Without much fanfare, the service has continued to grow over the year.
“Every year we invite the media to come, to cover our event,” Fox-Phillips said. “So far, the only one that has come every year is Between The Lines, except two years ago when I think it was Chocolate who was shot and killed the same day, and then the media just descended upon us. Every year that we become more visible there are more and more of us that are being buried.”
In between the reading of the names, comments were shared by Bridget Dawson from the Trans Sistas of Color Project, Fair Michigan Justice Project’s Director of Transgender Outreach Julisa Abad, Tiffany Ebony from the Ruth Ellis Center, Ruth Ellis Center Executive Director Jerry Peterson and Central’s Senior Pastor the Rev. Dr. Jill Hardt Zundel.
“Today we are here in remembrance of our family who have passed, a vast majority of them who are trans women of color,” Ebony said. “It hurts me to believe that in such a short time we have lost so many dynamic and phenomenal women from acts of violence alone. … When I look into the crowd and I see the faces of other trans women of color, I think to myself, ‘Who are they to me?’ They are family. They are my aunts. They are my sisters. They are my mothers and we are changing the way that we not only see each other but how we see ourselves and that how we show up in spaces and the way that we are changing our history day by day.”
Zundel, the evening’s final speaker, was impassioned. She told the crowd she first attended a Transgender Day of Remembrance service in 2009.
“I listened in horror at how many names were lifted up of those who had died, and at that service at that time they used to share how they had died, and it was devastating to me,” Zundel said. “And here we are 10 years later remembering again hundreds of people who are no longer with us simply because they embraced their true selves and others felt threatened by their light in this world.
“It is 10 years later and we have work to do,” Zundel continued. “I wish we didn’t. I wish we lived in a world where the rigid rules of gender didn’t apply and didn’t matter so much, weren’t enforced with the murderous brutality we bear witness to tonight. … We don’t live in this world yet, which is why we hold this night sacred, which is why we take the time to remember and to grieve lives lost. It is so important that we not let these lives cut short go unnoticed, unmourned, unnamed. It is so important that we not let these deaths remain invisible, that we not let the world be comfortable with people murdered because of their gender identity. These dead are our dead. They are ours, and we are theirs, and we will remember them.”