Community plans for Transgender Day of Remembrance

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By Juliet Bennett Rylah

Contributing Writer

WEST HOLLYWOOD — The community will have multiple choices this year when observing the annual Transgender Day of Remembrance Nov. 20, which honors transgender people who have been killed during the previous year.

West Hollywood officials are soliciting volunteers to read names during its virtual ceremony, while the Unique Women’s Coalition, a Black trans-led organization, will host a separate day of programming on its social media channels.

The Transgender Day of Remembrance was founded by writer and activist Gwendolyn Ann Smith in 1999 in memory of Rita Hester, a 34-year-old Black transgender woman who was murdered in her Boston apartment on Nov. 28, 1998. Hester’s murder remains unsolved 22 years later.

Transgender people are disproportionately targeted by violence. According to the Human Rights Council, which has tracked violence against transgender individuals since 2013, violence against transgender people is on the rise. In 2020, 33 transgender or gender non-conforming people have been killed thus far, compared to 25 in 2019 and 22 in 2018. The numbers may be even higher due to misgendering in police and media reports.

Each year, participants around the world hold vigils and read the names of transgender people who have been killed since Nov. 20 of the previous year. West Hollywood has hosted its own ceremony since 2012, according to Hernan Molina, the city’s governmental affairs liaison. Though typically an in-person event, this year’s memorial will occur over Zoom. 

“We have been trying hard to host an event that is a true community event within this new normal of COVID-19,” Molina said. 

The city’s program will be similar to previous events, despite the online format. The reading of names will be pre-recorded and edited to ensure everyone is honored respectfully. Volunteers will read the name and biographical details of at least one person, as well as the circumstances of their death.

Overwhelmingly, victims are Black transgender women. In 2019, the Human Rights Council found that 91% of those transgender people reported killed were Black women. In 2018, they reported that 82% of victims were women of color.

Chela Demuir, CEO and president of the Unique Women’s Coalition, an L.A.-based group for Black trans women that is active in West Hollywood, said her organization decided to create its own program as “a direct response to have our voices centered when it is Black trans people who are historically and who continue to be the number one group that’s a part of the … list every year.”

“To be able to celebrate our fallen siblings in a way that is appropriate and not rushed or overlooked or as a minimal part of a program, we felt that it was necessary for us to do this,” she said.

The coalition has partnered with the TransLatin@ Coalition, FLUX, and other community members and allies to produce the Transgender Day of Remembrance: A Celebration of Life, Love, and Resilience, which will stream on the coalition’s Facebook Page and YouTube channel. It will both pay homage to those who have died, the life they lived and their aspirations, as well as uplift the voices of those who are still here. It will also serve as a call to action for both the trans community and allies.

Last month, Los Angeles County prosecutors filed charges against Carlton Callaway, 29, and Davion Williams, 22, who are accused of attacking three transgender women in Hollywood on Aug. 17. Much of the attack was caught on video, including portions where onlookers can be heard laughing and using transphobic language as they fail to intervene. One of the women, influencer Eden “the Doll” Estrada, posted the clips to her social media account, prompting outrage.

Demuir cites this as an example of what needs to happen when violence against trans individuals occurs. She also wonders, however, about what happens to people who, unlike Estrada, don’t have huge social media followings.

“More of us need to be visible and active and also have the resource and access to our government officials and law enforcement officials to navigate the urgency of these issues,” she said.

Demuir also encourages people to become allies, learn more about trans culture from trans-led organizations and stand with them. Demuir said people would ultimately realize they have more similarities with trans people than differences.

“I long for the day where we could all be who we like to be and everyone else would be at peace with it. No harm comes from any other person living their life.”

The Unique Women’s Coalition is still in the process of planning its event, so Demuir says it’s a great time to join if you would like to get involved. Interested parties can visit theuwc.org for more information.

People interested in volunteering for the West Hollywood ceremony can contact Molina at hmolina@weho.org or (323) 848-6364 with your name, phone number and email address.

Juliet Bennett Rylah is a freelance reporter who covers Hollywood and West Hollywood. She can be reached at jbrylah@gmail.com.