By Gwendolyn Ann Smith
For me, November is dominated by two things.
Seven years ago, I founded a project called Remembering Our Dead, focusing on anti-transgender violence. It is from this project that the Transgender Day of Remembrance began. It will be held on November 20 across the world and in your own hometown.
November is also the realm of political elections, and this year was one of the most involved elections I’ve ever been party to. It was also one of the first elections to so directly involve me, with an incumbent president who backs a constitutional amendment to ban my marriage, amongst other things.
This November, both the election and the Transgender Day of Remembrance have certain parallels that I suspect few would realize. Let me explain.
One case I’ve ended up intimately involved with due to the Remembering Our Dead project is the brutal murder of 17-year-old Gwen Araujo. Last Spring, her murderers were brought to trial, and everyone was pretty sure this case would be a “slam dunk.” Nevertheless, there were some things that didn’t seem right, such as the Deputy District Attorney’s desire to downplay Miss Araujo’s transgender status, and all-but-discarding the hate crime enhancement. Indeed, in retrospect, I feel he was doing all he could to pretend that Gwen’s gender was irrelevant, even though she was killed due to her gender.
This trial, this “slam dunk” as it were, ended up with a hung jury, and one of the three is now free on bail pending the second trial next March.
Over the last several months, the Democratic Party has been running a presidential campaign in order to oust the incumbent, George W. Bush. It was suggested by the party to downplay gay rights, including the brewing struggle over marriage. Some of us were even asked to be cautious about any discussion of transgender rights, and those few transgender delegates to the Democratic National Convention were asked to withdraw any request to include transgender rights within the official platform. It was believed that playing a safe campaign would help attract “undecideds” and get Senator John Kerry into the Oval Office.
On November 2, John Kerry lost by roughly four million votes. Since then, we’ve also heard that “moral values” — a useless buzzword if ever I heard one — were key to their voting decisions.
George W. Bush remains president, and all indications are that this Federal Marriage Amendment is a big part of his plans. Meanwhile, the Democratic party is examining their strategies, and seems to think they were not moderate enough.
Both the Araujo trial and the Presidential election are strikingly similar. Both the Democratic party and Deputy D.A. Chris Lamerio played it safe, seeking to downplay the issue of gender identity or other LGBT concerns.
Nevertheless, the republicans — and the lawyers for the defense — did not shy away from these issues. They went head on into them, whether it was threats that gay marriage would somehow destroy civilization as we know it, or it is was spurious claims that Gwen Araujo’s killers murdered because they were the victims of a cruel deception.
Both of these losses could have been avoided if people hadn’t tried to play it safe — and that is what makes me angry.
Those of us who are transgender are often paying with our very lives just to exist. We don’t often have the comfort to “play safe.” As a result more than one of us is murdered each month.
Indeed, while the Deputy D.A. gears up for another try at convicting Gwen Araujo’s killers, and while the Democratic party does a bit of soul searching, where will those like me stand? Will Gwen Araujo’s gender identity again be a tool for the defense rather than the prosecution, and will the Republicans be allowed to use marriage equality as a tool to scare Middle America?
People’s lives are at stake. We need allies, but we need allies who are willing to go to bat for us. One needs to be willing to show a commitment, and go all the way.
That is the strategy that is needed now, not some attempt to “un-queer” a call for justice and equality in this world.