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Transcending Survival
I was asked to speak at the local Annual Transgender Day of Remembrance
event on 11/20/2006. This is what I shared with those gathered.

This day is full of conflicting emotions. It is a day to mourn our lost community members, to reflect on our own struggles and close-calls with threats of physical harm, and to re-examine a society which condones violence born of ignorance and hatred.

I say that our society condones this violence because by the very omission- and stubborn resistance to- protection laws for trans people, our towns, counties, states, and country send the message that trans identified people are not worthy of the equal rights or protection from harm that other citizens of our country are afforded under the law.

As an adult who works with youth- many of whom are trans- I am often alarmed by the bigotry I see and hear reported. Trans youth, arguably the most vulnerable members of our community, are often targets of harassment and assault. The most insidious incidents of all are those which involve persons charged with maintaining public safety.

About a month ago, two trans teens were arrested at New York's Port Authority for using the "wrong" bathroom. The arresting officers paraded these youth in front of bystanders while making jokes about sex reassignment surgeries and commenting, "I wouldn't want my wife in a bathroom with things like you." What does this say about our society- when the very people we should be able to depend upon to keep us from harm are in fact the perpetrators of abuse themselves?

But today I also put forth a glimmer of hope. Because we may be weak and vulnerable when separated and singled out, but we are powerful in our united numbers as a community.

I drove to New York the week after the arrests and took part in a protest at Port Authority; along with other youth workers, trans youth, and a number of allies. What I saw there lifted me from my place of disappointment and anger.

The members of the next generation of our community were loud, insistent, but most all proud of who they are. For many of them, this protest seemed almost a joyous event- a chance to celebrate their diversity while chanting, singing and dancing- and an opportunity to publicly demand the respect that every human being deserves. I was buoyed by the trans adults who were there to stand with their younger brothers and sisters, and I was inspired by the number of allies who joined in the protest. Many of them were simply passers-by who stopped to listen to the cries for justice and felt compelled to add their voices to the group.

On the same day, local papers ran a story about a decision regarding public transport systems and bathroom accessibility. Because trans people are protected by law in New York, the MTA is now required by law to allow patrons to use whichever bathroom they feel best suits their needs. While not a perfect solution, it is a victory. And it is one that would not have come about if the trans community had not banded together to fight.

I relay this story to help explain my feelings about what a Day of Remembrance should be. We cannot simply gather once per year to honor and remember our dead. We cannot focus solely on our loss, our grief. This day is a reminder that we should spend every day remembering those of us who went before and those who were lost. We should acknowledge this grief and outrage each day and let it fuel our drive to create a community and world where all people are treated with dignity and respect and can live without fearing for their safety simply because of who they are.

I believe that day will come- but not without struggle, and not if we choose to forget our individual or community histories. Many of those who have been lost were targeted because they refused to be quiet, refused to live quiet lives of desperation and lies and, perhaps most of all, refused to apologize for who they were. In remembering these people every day we honor their struggles and their triumphs. And in honoring them, we honor ourselves.

I leave you with a quote from folk singer, activist and humanitarian Joan Baez:

"All of us are survivors, but how many of us transcend survival?"

and I challenge each of us to do this every day: for yourselves, your loved ones, your community, and for those who were not given the chance to transcend the border with us that stands between surviving and flourishing.

"All of us are survivors, but how many of us transcend survival?"

Please also see Remembering Our Dead for more info.

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