Local vigil marks Transgender Day of Remembrance (with correction)

Last modified: Tuesday, November 26, 2013

NORTHAMPTON — There was a fire pit in front of the First Churches of Northampton on Main Street Tuesday night. About 50 people gathered around it, holding candles and singing gospel songs about love and hope. A flame was passed around and every candle lit burned in remembrance of thousands of transgender people dying as a result of their gender identity.

Transgender Day of Remembrance is an annual event marked by vigils and programs around the world, drawing attention to the ongoing plague of violence targeting transgender people. The first Transgender Day of Remembrance was held in 1999 to honor the memory of Rita Hester, a transgender woman murdered in the Boston area.

“Every three days a transgender person dies as the result of gender discrimination all around the world,” said Tobias Davis, a transgender playwright.* “People are dying because of hatred, and we’re here to show the world that we stand for hope because trans-life matters.”

After lighting the candles, the participants marched on both sides of Main Street singing the gospel song “This Little Light of Mine” to the Unitarian Society of Northampton and Florence. There they filled the church’s pews to remember those who died as a result of their gender identity and expression, surrounded by white walls, pictures of Jesus Christ, and a great rainbow flag hanging from the podium.

“Humanity has no gender,” said William H. Dwight, president of Northampton City Council, who spoke on behalf of the mayor who issued a proclamation which read in part: “Transgender people still face discrimination, but in the city of Northampton we fight for equal rights for them.”

“Living in a body that doesn’t match who you are is a burden that’s not easy to deal with,” said Deja Nicole Greenlaw, a local trans-woman and columnist for the Rainbow Times. “If that doesn’t drive you crazy I don’t know what would.”

Greenlaw described the problems transgender people face with accepting their identity and their problems expressing transgender identity in a society that has trouble understanding the subject. Greenlaw said being transgender is sometimes too difficult to deal with, and that’s why suicide rates are so high. Physical and emotional violence, she said, are examples of issues transgender people have to deal with on a daily basis.

According to the Trans Murder Monitoring Project there have been as many as 1,123 reported murders of transgender people in the last four years. However, these murders are under-reported, vigil organizers said, as this number does not include regions of the world from which data is not available, including large sections of the Middle East, Africa, Central Asia, and Eastern Europe, as well as parts of South America.

“No kid should have to deal with this stuff,” said Kevin Collins of Northampton, a father of a recent transgender suicide victim. “When I was a kid we just beat each other up and that was it.”

Collins said he and his wife are recovering from the loss of their 13-year-old son Eric, who committed suicide this year. “I found out through his notebooks that he was being bullied. I didn’t ask the right questions, and now my son is dead.” As he spoke, Collins broke down in tears, and the audience responded with a warm round of applause and standing as a sign of support.

The program concluded with the reading of the names of some local transgender people who died in the last year. “No one’s forgotten tonight,” said Weir. “We’re an open and affirming congregation — enough with discrimination.”

* CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story mistakenly attributed this quote to another speaker.


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