Reflections on the 2018 Transgender Day of Remembrance

On November 20, 2018 a crowd of supporters gathered at Andrews Park in Norman, Oklahoma to recognize, remember and honor those in the transgender community who have faced discrimination and violence. The keynote speaker, Daniel Dukes, offered the following comments, which all of us at proFmagazine are honored to share.

My name is Daniel and I am Transgender. It has taken me a long time to be about to say that out loud and without fear, and dammit – it’s about time!

In 1965, a year after I was born, Martin Luther King said this: “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.”

Four years later on June 28, 1969, the Stonewall Riots took place at the Stonewall Inn in New York City, sparking a civil rights movement for LGBT community in the United States. As reporter Lucian Truscott IV of the Village Voice noted, “This was the Rosa Parks moment, the time that gay people stood up and said no. And once that happened, the whole house of cards that was the system of oppression of gay people started to crumble.”

As we all know too well, that oppression is still on us. It’s been 50 years since Stonewall and we are still facing discrimination. The house of cards is still standing, but it takes people like us to knock it down. Our current administration is attempting to strip transgender people of official recognition by creating a narrow definition of gender as being only male or female, and unchangeable once determined at birth.

In 1999, transgender advocate Gwendolyn Ann Smith started a vigil to honor the memory of Rita Hester, a transgender woman who was killed in 1998. Rita was killed in her own apartment two days before her 35th birthday. She was stabbed over 20 times and the newspaper did not give it any attention. Her murder was a week after that of Matthew Shepard, who was beaten to death in Wyoming. Matthew’s death made national headlines and sparked candlelight vigils attended by thousands, and his remains were interred at Washington National Cathedral, the spiritual home of the nation. No such honor was given to the African American, lower income transgender woman who was killed just as viciously as Matthew. She was just “another tranny” killed, and to this day, her murder remains unsolved.

Over the years, the scale of the International Transgender Day of Remembrance – November 20 – has expanded to close to 200 cities worldwide. In the days leading up to it, different organizations raise awareness about the problems people from the transgender community face, and post to social media the names of those who have been killed simply for being transgendered.

So far in 2018, 22 transgender people have been murdered in the United States. More than 250 others around the world suffered the same fate. But those numbers are thought to be inaccurate, because so many deaths of transgender people go unreported or are not recognized because the murdered are misidentified.

When most people speak of us, they save we are “brave” for telling our stories or for speaking up about injustices. We should not have to be brave in order to live.Being brave implies that there is fear involved. We should not have to be brave to step outside our front doors. We should not have to be brave to eat at our favorite restaurants. We should not have to be brave to go to work every day, or to go on a date or to go to a doctor.

Some of us unfortunately cannot muster the bravery we need, and we end our lives so that the fear and the discrimination will stop. And some of us are so “brave” that we stand up to those who hate us and lose the battle by being assaulted or murdered.

To those who have lost their lives: we are here to carry your message forward.

Some of us are not as strong as others, and that’s okay. Make yourselves visible however you can. To those that can speak up – stay strong. The strong will fight for you. The strong will support you. The strong will speak for you. We will make sure your voices are heard, and we will make sure laws get passed that protect us from harm.

For those of you who are trans, when you leave here tonight and go home, take a long look at yourself in the mirror. What is staring back at you is not a freak, or a mistake, or an abomination, or whatever someone has labeled you. You are a son, a daughter, a sister, a brother, an aunt, an uncle, a mother, a father, a PERSON. A PERSON who deserves to be loved, deserves to be happy, deserves to be recognized and deserves to be respected.

We did not choose to be transgender, just as we did not choose to be born.

We should not be obligated to “pass,” and we should not have to try to “blend in” to be accepted. We should not have to lie about our pasts in order to keep our secrets. We should be accepted as equals however we look or identify.

Being quiet won’t stop the violence, it won’t stop the hate and it won’t stop the discrimination. Being quiet does just that – IT KEEPS US QUIET, it and lets others make decisions for us.

Don’t let others define you, or tell you who and what you are. As the great Maya Angelou said, “There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.”

So tell your story. TALK. TWEET. BLOG. SNAP. However you tell it, make sure you do it NOW. Some of us may not have tomorrow.