“Profound change must occur”
Story and photos by Mónica Barnkow
They would not be forgotten.
White ribbons and small lit candles were held aloft at the steps of City Hall at dusk this past Thurs., Nov. 20th. Lesbian, gay, bi-sexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ) community members, advocates, and elected officials gathered for the annual Transgender Day of Remembrance (TDOR) to honor the memory of those whose lives were lost to acts of violence.
“I am here to represent my agency and show support to the LGBTQ community,” said Rebecca Walton. Walton works with Argus Community Inc., a social services agency in the Bronx. “This is a personal issue for me. I am a transgender and deal with violence and discrimination on a regular basis.”
Walton said she was shocked that in New York City, “the best city in the world,” LGBTQ members and transgender persons should be victims of violence.
“I am surprised at the level of anti-LGBT violence in the city,” she said. “Every week or every other week, I hear incidents. It is very sad.”
Last month alone, at least three cases of violent attacks on transgender persons were reported in Brooklyn’s Bushwick and Crown Heights neighborhoods.
According to statistics from the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs (NCAVP), hate crimes against LGBTQ persons are up 26 percent nationally from 2013.
In addition, NCAVP’s most recent annual report indicated that transgender people of color experienced acts of violence at a higher rate than other racial groups; more than half of 2013’s hate crime casualties have been African-American transgender women.
“The murder of transgender women of color is an epidemic in the United States and across the world,” remarked Julian Padilla, an activist at Make the Road New York.
“These women were human beings just like everybody else,” said transgender female Tiffany Mathieu of the victims. “We are here today to remember all the girls that passed.”
Among the elected officials who marked the Day of Remembrance was Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, who urged attendees to be vigilant in their support and to help any one afflicted by violence to report it to the authorities.
“We will continue to educate people on reporting hate crimes,” said Speaker Mark-Viverito. “LGBTQ needs to get equity and justice.”
She noted that 77 hate crimes against LGBTQ individuals have been reported citywide in the past year.
“Our community is impacted by violence,” she added. “This is a city that is supposed to embrace diversity.”
Also in attendance was Public Advocate Letitia “Tish” James.
“This is really a somber occasion,” she said. “Hate and fear must turn into respect in our community.”
The Public Advocate said that plans to make it easier for transgender individuals to change their gender identification on their birth certificates were being advanced. In addition, she emphasized the need to pass legislation that secured the rights of LGBTQ New Yorkers. “We must pass comprehensive laws to protect them.”
“Hate crimes are too frequent and on the rise,” added City Councilmember Jimmy Van Bramer. “Every single day is our day of remembrance.”
Councilmember Daniel Dromm lamented how hate crimes against transgender individuals have too often become cold cases, and perpetrators remain on the loose.
“We must not allow people to get away with hate crimes,” he said. “We must commit to bring justice for all.”
“Trans lives matter,” chanted Councilmember Rosie Méndez when she spoke. “We do not forget. We are going to make sure that those cold cases get solved.”
“So many transgenders are subjected to violence,” remarked Councilmember Corey Johnson. “Our city must be judged on how we treat the most vulnerable.”
Johnson acknowledged that, in order to stop hate crimes, profound change must occur.
“Ultimately legislation and rules can only go so far,” he said. “It is really about changing hearts and minds.”
“Nationally we are facing an epidemic,” said Chanel López of the NYC Anti-Violence Project. “72 percent of LGBTQ homicides in 2013 were towards transgender people.”
The first candlelight vigil took place in December 1998 to honor Rita Hester, an African American transgender woman who was murdered in Massachusetts.
Since then, Days of Remembrance have been held all across the country.
Despite the incidences of violence, Mathieu remained hopeful that she and the voices of those who joined her on Thursday would be heard.
“I want to help make change,” she said.