Philly leaders and organizations set for Trans Day of Remembrance
The annual observance, which takes place today, is a time to honor and remember lives lost to transphobic violence
Transgender Day of Remembrance is November 20 (adobe.stock/The Philadelphia Gay News).
By Michele Zipkin
PHILADELPHIA — Transgender Day of Remembrance (TDOR), which takes place annually on Nov. 20 is a time when the community unites to remember and honor those who lost their lives to transphobic violence. Each individual or community might celebrate TDOR differently, through social events, vigils, information sessions, speakouts, or a combination.
“Too often, community is left out of funerals and memorial services, making it difficult to raise awareness about anti-trans bias and hate and the many struggles faced by trans people,” Celena Morrison, executive director of Philadelphia’s Office of LGBT Affairs, said in a statement. “We understand that just one evening of observation is not enough to bring an end to violence against trans and gender-variant people. It is critical that community members and allies continue to advocate and organize year-round to bring about change.”
The Office of LGBT Affairs in collaboration with William Way Community Center will hold a TDOR event on Friday, Nov. 18 from 5:00 to 7:00 p.m. in the ballroom at WWCC. At the event, Morrison will share opening remarks, AJ Scruggs will speak, Nora Hikari will read poetry, and Chef Marcu will perform musical ballads. Collages of trans Philadelphians who were killed in the last five years will be on display at the event.
Darius McLean, who runs the Arcila-Adams Trans Resource Center at William Way, said that he feels that American society promotes a culture of avoidance when it comes to death and dying.
“We’re talking about people that have lost their lives through violence who tend to be predominantly trans women, and trans women of color,” McLean said. “I think it’s important for us to honor it and bring awareness to those lives whenever we can. It’s also a time to celebrate their lives, and to have other people know their names and voices.”
Echoing Morrison’s sentiment about continuing to fight for trans lives beyond TDOR, McLean said that getting involved in voting initiatives is one way to push for change.
“That’s something to think about, how these laws and the candidates might affect and support uplifting the lives of trans people in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and all over the place,” he said.
Tatyana Woodard co-founded and runs Ark of Safety LGBTQ+ Safe Haven (AoS), a temporary housing resource for LGBTQ people that prioritizes trans women of color. She is planning a small event to honor TDOR in the form of a candlelight vigil with AoS residents on Nov. 20. She will also create a wall of remembrance in the organization’s community room.
“TDOR’s significance for me has always been a time to reflect and to share stories and memories of siblings that we have lost due to violence and suicide in some instances,” Woodard said. “It also brings me to a point where we think about how many people we have actually lost.”
Woodard singled out a few trans people who were killed in Philadelphia in the last couple of years, including Mia Green, Stacey Lee Blahnik, Michelle Tamika Washington and Rem’mie Fells. Woodard told PGN that Green’s killer will be sentenced in January; Washington’s killer has been sentenced; Fells’ killer has been arrested but has not stood trial; and Blahnik’s killer is still at large.
Woodard said she feels it’s important on Trans Day of Remembrance “to reflect on the victory. Now I believe that these families and the community can really start to heal.”
Outside of TDOR, Woodard said that it’s vital to keep supporting grassroots and trans-led organizations, and to give trans people their flowers while they’re still with us.
“I think it’s always important, when we say allies, to actually put that into action and not just support trans people when something tragic happens,” Woodard said. She continues to run a GoFundMe campaign to be able to house more people at AoS.
Trans activist and Temple student Kendall Stephens organized a vigil on Temple’s main campus on Nov. 16. The program put a particular emphasis on trans youth, specifically trans athletes, considering the deluge of anti-trans legislation that has been passed and introduced this year.
“Even though we reflect upon those who have fallen due to anti-trans violence, we look at how we can prevent future violence,” Stephens told PGN. “There are people who are alive today that need as much support and affirmation as possible.”
Stephens acknowledged that upheaval related to politics, the economy and public health has buried the narrative that trans people continue to lose their lives due to hate-fueled violence. “We’re seeing the bloodiest year, thus far, for trans people,” she said.
This year, Stephens wanted to hear the stories of people who don’t normally get the spotlight and who have experienced unsafe conditions as a result of their trans identity. But she wanted to make time for trans joy, too.
“There’s another side to this where we should also focus on the joy that is necessary for us to rise above our circumstances,” Stephens said. “With our dignity and pride intact.”
Abby Koziol, a senior at Temple who studies social work, said that they feel like they have had the freedom to embrace their nonbinary identity, but recognized that that is often not the case for many trans and nonbinary folks.
“It’s made me think about how other people have not experienced those same things, or had that same ease in discovering who they are,” Koziol said. “It saddens me that I kind of came out the other side, but it also makes me really grateful that I can represent those who couldn’t be their full selves.”
They too acknowledged the need to keep advocating for trans folks every day by promoting affirming environments at work, in schools, in healthcare settings and in all spaces. “Not just for trans people but anyone around you. We can’t just follow policies, we actually need to apply these things in our personal life.”
Galaei is holding several TDOR-adjacent events, including a weekly coffee group hosted by galaei’s TINGS (Trans Intersex Nonbinary and Gender nonconforming Services) program, to take place at 1201 Market Street. In partnership with West Philly Bunnyhop, the TINGS team will host a food distribution on Nov. 19 at galaei, where they will give away turkeys and produce items from 3:00 to 5:00 p.m. Volunteers are needed. Also in light of TDOR, TINGS will host “Transgiving” on Nov. 22 at galaei, which will manifest as a potluck meal for trans and nonbinary folks to get food and resources. Galaei’s POP (Prioritizing Our People) program is hosting weekly movie screenings, the next of which will be on Nov. 23 with a screening of the queer thriller “Freaky.”
Michele Zipkin is a reporter for the Philadelphia Gay News, where this story first appeared.
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