2016 TDoR Keynote Speech at University of Michigan

In the interest of posterity, I thought I’d share some of the speeches I’ve given in recent months. This is the keynote speech I gave at the University of Michigan’s Transgender Day of Remembrance event in November of 2016.

It has always been interesting to me that Transgender Day of Remembrance is the event at the center of Transgender Awareness Month. The people we’re honoring tonight are the trans people we’re often the least aware of: trans women of color, sex workers, and the homeless of our community. Even as we’ve made advancements as a community, these are people who have so often been left behind.

During my time with The Advocate, it has been solemn duty to ensure that those whose lives have been so tragically taken by the forces hate do not slip from this world in anonymity, that their lives and memories are honored for the person that they truly were, that we as a community are forced to see their faces and speak their names. It is work that has taken an emotional toll, but that remains among the most important writing I’ve ever done. I’ve spoken to the families of so many of the amazing people we’re honoring in power this evening, and every single one of them brought light and love into someone’s life. These are human lives, not just tragic statistics.

I’d like to share some of the little details about a few of these beautiful human beings that I had the opportunity to learn.

Amos Beede volunteered with homeless people in Vermont, bringing them things they needed and giving them an ear when no one else would.

Goddess Diamond was described by her mother as having “a big heart” and “the most loving person I’d ever met.”

Dee Dee Dodds worked for Casa Ruby, whose director told me she was “like family.” Her Aunt told me she had a wonderful sense of humor.

Dee Whigham had just become a registered nurse, something she had wanted to do since she was a child. She was adored by her patients.

Rae’Lynn Thomas loved fashion and party-planning, and her aunt called her a “a light in my life that’s gone out.”
Erykah Tijerina’s sister called “funny, giving, and unapologetic for who she was”.

The friend of a woman known to us only as T.T. share that she was the best person for helping cheer someone up, and that she was working on becoming a hairdresser.

To date, 2016 is already the deadliest year on record for transgender people in the United States. At least 26 trans people have been murdered this year in our country, and 295 murders worldwide have been reported. The vast majority of those we’ve lost this year, and each year before, have been trans women of color, particularly black trans women. We’ve living in a time of epidemic violence against our black trans sisters.

Black trans women exist at the intersection of two of the most marginalized identities in this country. In an era where blackness is criminalized and trans-ness is hated, it leaves black trans women in the ugliest lurch where they encounter constant violence and discrimination from the wider world, and face rejection from the communities where they might turn to for support. Black trans women are far too often left out in the cold, both literally and figuratively, and the sheer number of names on our list for tonight are a representation of that fact in the starkest terms.

Trans women as a whole face tremendous rates of violence, harassment, discrimination, poverty, and homelessness. But for every single one of those measures of marginalization, trans women of color see rates 2-4 times higher than the broader trans community.

Under President Obama, who’s done more for our community than any president in history, we’ve seen the rates of transgender violence grow year after year. What can we expect during four years of President Trump, whose hand-picked staff have shown nothing but disgust and disdain for trans people, who’ve made emphatic promises to roll back even the modest protection we now have, Whose hateful, violent supporters have taken his election win as an implicit social approval of their campaign of attacks against marginalized people? How many more names are we going to be reading a year from now? We will even feel safe enough to come together in public to read the names of our dead, or will these events become clandestine in the new transphobic era of Mr Trump’s administration.

In the six years I’ve been out, I’m more frightened now than I ever have been before. Trans people are facing a future more uncertainty than at any point in recent memory, and for every access of marginalization that uncertainty increases exponentially. It is not paranoia. They are coming for us. They’re coming for our rights to exist on our own terms, to define ourselves and our identities, and to live as our authentic selves. They’re coming for our right to speak out against the hate and injustice that we face at every turn. They’re coming for the tiny future and safe spaces we’ve managed to carve out for ourselves against overwhelming odds. They want us gone or hidden, back into the shadows we existed in for decades, or buried in the ground.

It’s time for us to stand and fight. And we’ve going to need all the help we can get. Stand beside us, stand in front of us, or get the hell out of our way. We’re in this for our very lives, our backs are against the wall, and we’re ready to fight like hell.


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