Transgender Day of Remembrance honors past, looks to future

Last modified: Friday, December 07, 2012

NORTHAMPTON — When Lucy Longstreth’s son, who was born female, told her he was transgender and would live as a male, it caused different emotional reactions.

While her son was relieved to finally be living the life he felt destined for, Longstreth felt fear.

She said she feared for her son’s safety in a world where, too often, ignorance or misunderstanding leads to violence. But today her son is doing well in college and is a successful athlete, she said.

Longstreth, along with about 75 other advocates, activists and allies gathered to mark the annual Transgender Day of Remembrance in downtown Northampton Tuesday night.

The event is an opportunity for the transgender community to remember those who died the previous year through violence or suicide.

Suzanne Seymour, executive director of the LGBT Coalition of Western Massachusetts, said about 265 transgender deaths worldwide were remembered at this year’s ceremony.

That number is higher than in some previous years, Seymour said, and there is some dispute whether the increase is due to more acts of violence and aggression against transgender people or due to more thorough and accurate reporting techniques.

“Either way, it’s an alarming statistic,” she said. “Murder is an unacceptable response.”

“Every year it seems there are more people we are remembering,” said Genny Beemyn, the director of the Stonewall Center at the University of Massachusetts Amherst and an organizer of the event.

Brianna Harris, a transgender activist, said the amount of violence is disheartening, especially when considering Brazil alone reported approximately 100 murders of transgender people over the last 10 months.

Harris said the good news is the Obama administration not only recognizes transgender people exist, but sees their plight as a civil rights issue.

Harris said the biggest obstacle to acceptance is one of education and exposure.

“People just don’t know enough about us,” she said. “Slowly but surely they’re learning.”

Part of the problem, Harris said, is people who are otherwise tolerant of other social groups may not understand transgender identity as well.

“It’s a much different issue than sexual orientation,” Harris said. “It’s a lot harder to wrap your head around and get it.”

Mayor David Narkewicz proclaimed Tuesday an official day of remembrance in the city and touted Northampton’s accomplishments in recognizing transgender people as a group entitled to protection again discrimination and hate crimes. That’s a stance the state adopted almost exactly one year ago, on Nov. 23, 2011.

The event began nationally in 1999 following the murder of Rita Hester in the Boston neighborhood of Allston in 1998.

That event was the “straw that broke the camel’s back,” and spurred the community into action, Beemyn said.

Tuesday’s event began with a candlelight vigil at the Unitarian Society of Northampton and Florence and proceeded to First Churches.

Transgender activist Samantha Cornell, who died from cancer earlier this year, was remembered, and attendees were given names to read aloud during the ceremony.

Bob Dunn can be reached at


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