New York Transgender Advocacy Group (NYTAG) co-founder Tanya Asapansa-Johnson Walker stood on a pedestal at the Christopher Street Pier on November 20, Transgender Day of Remembrance, and read name after name of transgender people who have lost their lives this year — and she then asked the crowd if other names should be added to that list.
One name was called out, and then another, and another. It was a reflection of the ongoing deadly violence facing transgender folks — particularly trans women of color — during a year when at least 22 trans folks have been killed domestically. According to a report by Transrespect Versus Transphobia Worldwide, there have been a total of 331 cases of reported killings of trans and gender non-binary folks around the globe between October 1 of last year and September 30, 2019.
The crowd gathered alongside Gays Against Guns and NYTAG on the edge of the Hudson River for an emotional vigil at the pier before marching to Christopher Park across the Stonewall Inn. Gays Against Guns activists, dressed in their usual white veils and holding photos of trans folks who have died, shined a spotlight on the nature of the violence facing the community: Guns have been involved in at least 14 of the known transgender people who have been killed in the US this year, according to NYTAG.
While the focus was understandably placed on those who have lost their lives, community leaders also reminded everyone to help trans people who are still alive today. NYTAG co-founder Kiara St. James said there must be efforts to provide investments and opportunities for the transgender community, including trans-led organizations.
“Today is a day about honoring, but also celebrating,” she said. “I am about making sure we are uplifting one another, that we are celebrating our resilience. For those of us who have the privilege to still have breaths in our bodies to fight another day, we need to make sure we are creating spaces of change. We need to make sure we are working with elected officials and faith-based organizations to make sure they are also creating affirming spaces.”
Among those in attendance at the vigil included Public Advocate Jumaane Williams, who stayed briefly, departing before the march. Following a series of speakers and a moment of silence, activists and attendees marched along the sidewalk on Christopher Street and hurled chants like, “Hey hey, ho ho, transphobia has got to go!”
Once at the park, everyone huddled together as the surrounding Rainbow and Transgender Flags blew in the wind. Walker, a military veteran, stood at one end of the park and invoked the late Army General Norman Schwarzkopf, saying, “’The more you sweat in peace, the less you bleed in war.’ And we are at war… We need to organize, stay organized.”
Attendees at the park were reflective and passionate. Rae Lindsay, who recently came out as transgender and uses they /them pronouns, said they felt it was their duty to participate.
“Even if I was in a neighboring city, I would still make my way here today,” Lindsay told Gay City News. “Hearing the stories of people losing their loved ones, it angers me and makes me want to fight harder. That’s what today means to me. It’s Transgender Day of Remembrance, but it is also Transgender Day of Resilience, and we have to be resilient. The more people that show up, the stronger we are.”
Others in the crowd also conveyed the need to embrace folks regardless of gender identity or sexual orientation — a seemingly simple factor in affirming people’s lives. Cosbert Richards donned rainbow colors and highlighted the importance of accepting people for who they are.
“Trans women are women and trans men are men and that’s it,” Richards said to Gay City News as the crowd dispersed following the event. “This is about uniting. You can’t separate ourselves because we have different sexual orientations or gender identities. At the end of the day, we are here, we are queer, and we are not going anywhere.”