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A small crowd of about 20 came out Monday, Nov. 19 to the Wayne State University Student Center Ballroom for what organizers believe was the university’s first official Transgender Day of Remembrance service. The service, which was organized by the Wayne State LGBT Student Advisory Board, was led by board president Cara Mitrano.
“I felt that it was important to have a Wayne State recognition of Transgender Day of Remembrance,” Mitrano said. “I also thought it was important to have community activists like Rachel Crandall-Crocker and Laci Marie featured in the celebration and not just talked about.”
In her talk to the crowd, Crandall-Crocker, the founder of Transgender Michigan and the International Transgender Day of Visibility, reflected on the state of affairs for the transgender community in the nation.
“I’m sorry to say that has not been a great year for the transgender community all around the world,” she said. “There were an awful lot of murders everywhere. People like me, who are just trying to be myself, that’s why these people were killed. It wasn’t because they did anything wrong. It was just because they were trying to live their true lives.”
The violence, Crandall-Crocker said, is senseless.
“Do you know that a father once killed his baby son because his baby son was acting too feminine?” Crocker asked. “That actually happened. And do you know that in a shopping mall a man was holding his wife’s purse when she was trying on clothes and someone came along and shot him? I want to make it clear. It isn’t only trans individuals. It’s people who are perceived as being trans. Who knows, that could be a lot of us right here.”
Crandall-Crocker talked to the crowd about what it felt like growing up knowing she was different.
“When I was little it was in the mid-’60s,” she said. “I was so freaking scared. I thought I was God’s one mistake. In the ’60s there wasn’t any internet, there wasn’t any term ‘transgender.’ There really wasn’t anything at all. I have to admit I wanted to kill myself a number of times. I still can’t figure out how I’m still alive honestly. I never thought I would be alive at the ripe old age of 21. However, actually, I am 21. It was 21 years ago that I began to live as Rachel.”
Almost as old, the first Transgender Day of Remembrance service took place in San Francisco in 1999. It was organized by trans activist Gwen Smith.
“She had the very first one because a local community member was killed just for being trans,” said Crandall-Crocker. “I have to admit I created the International Transgender Day of Visibility as a result of what Gwen did. So, I want to know, what are you going to do? I hate when people say that one person cannot make a difference. One person always could make a difference. Every movement was started by one individual. One person can really make a difference.”
Today, there are Transgender Day of Remembrance services held all over the globe.
“Right here in Michigan, and all the way around the world, there are people gathering for events like this,” said Crandall-Crocker. “There are like 15 in the state of Michigan. Think of how many there are around the world. In numbers come power. And I want to say we do have power and we showed our power a few weeks ago in the midterm election. Activists like me are already planning how with the new people in Michigan government we can really change things for trans individuals. We’re already working on it.”
For her part in the service, Marie sang a few inspirational songs for the crowd.
“I’m just trying to live my life authentically because I knew in 1951, before there was light and electricity, that I was a woman and female,” Laci Marie said. “I’ve been suicidal twice. I had a nervous breakdown. Now, I’m just as thrilled as anything to be finally living my truth.
“I pretended for a long, long time,” she continued. “I was an Academy Award worthy actress. But today, I’m very comfortable with who I am. And that’s a beautiful thing, living authentically. I commit the rest of my life to helping other people accept us and everybody.”