Transgender Day of Remembrance – Vigil and Speech by Michelle Paquette

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Concord, CA – A Transgender Day of Remembrance Vigil was held at Todos Santos Plaza in downtown Concord. The event was hosted by Richmond Rainbow Pride and the Rainbow Community Center of Contra Costa County, with participation from several faith-based communities.

Attendees and speakers at the event reported that the mood at this years memorial was particularly somber.

Michelle Paquette gave a short speech intended as a rallying cry for faith-based communities and allies to seek ways to reduce violence against transgender persons, particularly transgender women of color.

Transgender Violence and Faith-Based Community

By Michelle Paquette, MDUUC

Good evening. I wish I had better news to share.

At least 25 transgender and gender nonconforming persons have been killed in the United States since this day last year. The number is understated, as local officials need not report these killings to any official database, and may use incorrect names and genders. What we know is gathered from news reports, families, and friends.

The numbers indicate that violence against transgender people is increasing. Almost all the murder victims have been non-white women.

This violence is not discouraged by our culture. Sixteen states have considered bathroom bills this year and six have considered legislation to invalidate local anti-discrimination protections. The federal government has rescinded protections for transgender students, tried to bar transgender troops from serving, and removed workplace discrimination protections.

Sarah McBride of the Human Rights Campaign has said “We know that when transphobia mixes with misogyny and racism, it can have often fatal consequences.” In the past 5 years, 75 out of 102 transgender people killed in the United States were black or African-American. Ten were Hispanic or Latinx. Eleven were white. One was American Indian, and five were unknown. Across the United States, but especially in the South, where most of the victims resided, transphobia, homophobia, sexism, racism, and poverty heighten the vulnerability of transgender people from an early age.

Our faith-based communities here have provided many of us with a safe space, with emotional support, and with awareness of our situation. This has been a wonderful gift, something very much appreciated by those of us in the transgender community who have been able to find and shelter under the shield these communities provide.

Thank you.

Unfortunately, the shield of our faith-based communities doesn’t extend everywhere. This shield cannot protect students in our schools. It doesn’t extend to our city streets, parking lots, or dark hallways in apartment buildings. It doesn’t cover that waitress going off-shift at midnight. It doesn’t protect that woman returning to her apartment at 1 AM. It doesn’t shield that woman selling her body to try and make the rent payment.

I think it is wonderful that my brothers and sisters, my friends and my allies are here tonight. Thank you for your support and effort. I’m afraid, though, that I have to ask for more from you, and our faith-based communities.

How do we reach out to those most affected, in particular the transgender women of color that are at such high risk of being murdered for the offense of existing?

Can we move beyond remembering their deaths, and make those most at risk part of our lives?

Many of us have a certain amount of privilege. Are there ways we can extend that privilege to decrease the pain another person might experience in the spaces we are in? How can we provide comfort and safety, strength and solidarity, for those who are most vulnerable?

At the very least, as faith-based communities, we can leverage our facilities to raise awareness, know the facts, and share the knowledge. We can try to step out of our comfort zone a bit to allow other voices to be heard. We can honor the leadership of transgender women of color in our area (Horizons Foundation among others). We can share in their stories of loss or survival. We can provide support toward their moving into new kinds of strength and empowerment.

I will not pretend to have all, or even any of the answers. I simply do not know enough and am not connected enough. I am hoping that our larger faith-based communities can share some of this task, reaching out and shielding those who remain unprotected and in need of safety.

While we keep and hold the reverence of this day, I ask that we also think about how to build a more inclusive and dynamic resistance among the living. I ask that today be the start of an amazing work, the start of collaboration and healing over the next year, in the hope that we may shield more at-risk people from violence.

Thank you for your presence and consideration.

NBC Bay Area Online provided news coverage of the event. The video can be seen here:
https://www.nbcbayarea.com/news/local/I-Know-Who-I-Am-Transgender-Advocates-Memorialize-Lost-Lives-in-Concord-459121683.html

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