Wednesday, February 07, 2007

2003 Louisville Transgender Day of Remembrance Speech

TransGriot Note:photo is of the late Amanda Milan, who died in June 2000 after having her throat slashed at the NY Port Authority terminal.

In 2002 and 2003 I was asked to be the keynote speaker for the local TDOR event in Louisville. This is the text of the speech I gave that night.

Giving honor to God,
I am pleased to have the privilege of speaking to you on the occasion of the 5th Annual Transgender Day of Remembrance. This is the second annual observance
that has been held here in Louisville on the LPTS campus. I'd like to thank Mary Sue Barnett, More Light, and The Women's Center here at the Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary for their hard work in putting this event together and honoring me with another invitation to speak so that I can make more people mad on the Internet after this speech gets posted.

I'd like to give you a brief history on how this event began. It honors Rita Hester, an African-American transgender woman who was found brutally stabbed twenty times in her Boston apartment on November 28, 1998. When Rita's death was announced in the gay and straight newspapers she was disrespected to the point where transactivists in Boston picketed the news outlets. It led to the Associated Press revamping their guidelines in terms of how they refer to transpeople in news stories. It was also the impetus for Gwen Smith to start the Remembering our Dead Project.

The Transgender Day of Remembrance works on several levels. It raises public awareness of hate crimes against transgender people. It allows us to publicly mourn and honor the lives of our brothers and sisters who might otherwise be forgotten. We express love and respect for our people in the face of national indifference and hatred. It's a reminder to non-transgender people that we are your sons, your daughters, your relatives, your parents, your lovers, and your friends. It allows you an opportunity to stand in solidarity with us and gives the transgender community a chance to thank our allies and friends.

Last year I spoke to you on the steps of this chapel as a dark night gave way to a beautiful late November fall morning. When you think about it, there was some interesting symbolism to last year's observance. The early morning chill gave way to the warmth of the sun rising to start a new day. Well, this year's speech has its own symbolic touch. The ceremony for this year's vigil has moved from outside Caldwell Chapel to indoors. To me, it's a powerful statement of the commitment of the progressive elements of the Presbyterian Church, More Light, LPTS, and elements of other faiths to include its transgender children in its mission. They are oases of inclusiveness in a sweltering desert of intolerance and it couldn't have come at a better time.

President John F. Kennedy stated during a televised June 11, 1963 speech on civil rights that ‘Every American ought to have the right to be treated as they would wish to be treated, and as one would wish his children to be treated. Sadly, that is not the case.'

Forty years later, it's not the case with transgender Americans and our brothers and sisters around the world. We are being demonized by fundamentalists so that they can pursue political power. The Roman Catholic Church recently banned transgender people from serving as lay ministers, priests or nuns. There are some African-American and other Baptist churches that have cast out their transgender members at a time when we as Christians need to be INCLUDING transpeople into the fold and not EXCLUDING them.

We are here tonight because of hate violence directed toward my people that has snuffed out thirty-nine more lives. Once again we are adding people to a somber list that is approaching 300 names. That's a little over one killing a month since this project started tracking those stats in 1999. The thirty-nine individuals that we are remembering tonight represents the highest number of people that we have ever honored at a Day of Remembrance vigil. Once again we are gathered to hear about the causes of deaths of people who are simply struggling with trying to live their lives and being killed because of it. The sad part about it is that in many cases people either don't care or are unwilling to see the perpetrators brought to justice.

I mentioned earlier that I received some e-mailed criticism from some transpeople after my 2002 speech was posted on several transgender Internet lists. Most of the e-mails I received agreed with what I said in last year's speech, but objected to me calling out conservatives and fundamentalists as the root cause of some of the violence being expressed toward transpeople. They cited the October 5, 1999 televised 700 Club comments of Pat Robertson stating that ‘transsexuality is not a sin’ as evidence that conservatives weren't the bad guys in terms of what's happening to our people. I pointed out to those folks that some of the people involved in the transgender bashing proudly call themselves conservative.

I reminded them of Pat's silence as Jerry Falwell sat by his side and blamed GLBT people for the 9-11 terrorist attacks on his TV show. I also reminded them of Pat Robertson's sorry history of opposing civil rights, so if the white sheet fits, too bad.

I've noticed over my lifetime that when conservatives get elected to office, society seems to descend to a mean spirited Darwinian tone and attacks on people that they don't like start happening with increasing frequency. It's as though the bigots feel that it's safe to slither out from under their rocks and openly act on their prejudices, since they see their politicians and ministers openly attacking GLBT people. They feel it's okay to do whatever they want to ‘those' people and get away with it.

It happened in my birth state of Texas once the conservatives got control of the governor's mansion and state government in 1994. The intolerant attitude cultivated over the last ten years has contributed to a rise in hate violence that led to the James Byrd dragging death in 1999. Two of tonight's people that we memorialized here come from my hometown, and although Kentucky as of yet has not lost a transperson to hate violence, I fear that it will happen soon. The bigots have already started to verbalize their feelings since the recent November 4 election.

The recent incident I was told about upset me. A married non transgender woman with a short haircut was confronted downtown near Kinko's by several young males cruising Market Street. They hurled anti-gay slurs at her, and when the woman showed her tormentors her wedding ring, one of them responded, "Aww, you're probably married to one of them blankety-blank F to M transsexuals."

The interesting thing about this incident is that the woman in question is a student at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. They have been taught down the street and at their churches over the last twenty years that GLBT people are the enemy. Now that one of their own has been confronted with the hatred that we face, some of the students on that campus are starting to see the light.

Society needs to see the light, too. All that I and any other transgender person wants is to be able to use our God-given talents to make a decent living for ourselves and uplift our society. I was not put on this Earth to become a target for people who are upset at their how their own lives have turned out, are insecure about their own gender identity or sexual orientation, or want to use transpeople as bogeymen to scare people into donating to their pet political causes. Treat me and other transpeople as you would wish to be treated.

What needs to happen is that society needs to send a message that it will no longer tolerate its transgender citizens being brutally killed. We need to be included in hate crimes legislation at the state and federal level, and prosecutors need to start giving murderers of transpeople the maximum penalties under the law, and not plea bargaining them down to minimal probation terms.

I'm going to close this speech by quoting the Rev. Pat Robertson from that October 5, 1999 700 Club show:

‘God does not care what your external organs are. The question is whether you are living for God or not. Yes, He loves you. Yes, He forgives you and He understands what is going on in your body.’

Enough said.

TransGriot note;
On May 22, 2005 the fear that I expressed at the TDOR came true when Timothy Blair, a 19 year old transgender youth who was in drag at the time, was shot to death at 28th and Magazine Streets as he walked home from a bus stop.

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