The Austin Chronicle

Transgender Day of Remembrance

By Sarah Marloff, November 21, 2014, News

Members of the gender-diverse community and allies have come to mark Nov. 20 as the Transgender Day of Remembrance. In 2014, 11 transgender people (most of them women of color) have been murdered in North America for being gender-diverse, trans, or perceived as such. The most recent death came last Wednesday, Nov. 12, when Gizzy Fowler of Nashville, Tenn., was shot to death. "I wish I could say things have changed, but they haven't," says Lisa Scheps, an ex officio board member of Transgender Education Network of Texas (TENT), and one of six founding members of the nonprofit. "On average – for years now – one trans person is killed once a month in North America."

"The entire community – LGBTQ and beyond – is invited to come out, stand up, and say this is not acceptable anymore," says Rifka Reichler. A cisgender ally, Reichler has chaired and co-chaired TDOR for seven years, through her ongoing work with TENT.

Austin has also been relatively lucky. In the 12 years Scheps has lived here, there hasn't been a member of Austin's transgender community on the TDOR list – though she recalls that a few years back, two young transgender girls committed suicide as a result of harassment and bullying at school. "We did put both of them on the list, but we don't usually put suicide in the same bucket as murder," explains Scheps, "though suicide is a huge – and connected – issue." In January 1999 – before TENT, Scheps, or Reichler landed in town – 18-year-old Lauryn Paige Fuller was brutally murdered in Southeast Austin (see "The Lauryn Paige Fuller Story," Feb. 18, 2000). Her death rallied local LGBT organizations to step up their aid for gender-diverse youth within the city.

TENT Prison Outreach and Program Coordinator Kaitlyn Lundrigan, who started her transition between 2001 and 2005, believes Austin and the surrounding areas are changing for the better. As mainstream media addresses transgender issues, she emphasizes the importance of acknowledging that trans folks are greater than their gender identity and their romantic partners. "We also have careers. We also have children that we raise. We contribute our talents and passions to the world. When I think about the people we lose each year to murder, I think about those contributions that we've all lost as well."

Austin first observed TDOR in 2002 – four years after Gwendolyn Ann Smith founded the day in memory of Rita Hester – and has been hosted by TENT and various community cosponsors every year since. For the past several years the memorial has been held on City Hall Plaza overlooking Cesar Chavez Street. Austin Police Department Officer Greg Abbink (see "The Right Man for the Job") will be one of several speakers. "I want to recognize the courage he is showing by standing up in front of Austin City Hall and speaking about his journey as a trans man," says Reichler. "I'm thankful to him for sharing his story with all of us."

Transgender Day of Remembrance features an array of community speakers, as well as on-site licensed therapists and ASL interpreters. Thursday, Nov. 20, 6:30pm, City Hall Plaza.

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