Community memorializes lost lives at 2016 Austin Transgender Day of Remembrance

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Sebastian Colon- Otero reads out the names of transgender persons killed in the past year for their identities. He is accompanied by trans women of color, called to stand with him in support.

Photo Credit: Mary Pistorius | Daily Texan Staff

The words of Charles Albert Tindley’s “We Shall Overcome” pierced through the crisp winter air Sunday evening as Reverend Carmarion Anderson sang to remind a crowd of students and Austinites of the 24 trans lives lost in the U.S. since January at the 2016 Austin Transgender Day of Remembrance. 

Anderson, a trans woman of color, was one of many who shared her story to memorialize the loss of transgender individuals throughout the country, including Austin resident Monica Loera, who was shot and killed earlier this year.

“I urge you to tell the stories of the victims, share who they were, or else we die two deaths: One when our body expires, the other when our stories stop being told,“ said Anna Nguyen, co-chair of Austin TDOR and a trans woman of color. “Please keep telling their stories.”

Beginning in 1999 to honor the death of San Francisco’s Rita Hester the previous year, Sunday’s annual event serves as a way to bring many in the queer and trans-identifying community together in several cities throughout the country.

According to media reports and the Transgender Education Network of Texas, there have been at least 24 trans lives lost in 2016, including two in Texas. Loera’s death on Jan. 22 was the first on that list, a grim statistic establishing a year of mourning for many in the Austin queer and trans community.

Drew Riley, an Austin resident and trans woman, said she came to Sunday’s event for her third time since 2014. With the loss of Loera earlier this year resting heavily on her mind, Riley said last night’s TDOR was especially difficult for her.

“It was difficult reading in the paper [then] that one of our own was lost so close to home,” Riley said. “I knew that it would have a little more weight and severity tonight, and it did.”

After a surprising electoral victory on Nov. 8 swept Republican candidates into office at the state and federal level, many in the queer and trans community are afraid of what policies could arise during an administration with President-elect Donald Trump at the helm, including attacks on bathroom access and local nondiscrimination ordinances, Riley said.

“I’m very grateful that the trans community is starting to have a voice in the mainstream media outlets, but it does create a backlash,” Riley said. “We’ve seen that all over the country with all LGBT rights, where we’ve seen this rise in conservative agendas getting pushed back against us. But at the same time, having a dialogue at all, even if there are more opponents, is better than being ignored.”

Several of the speakers agreed with Riley that visibility of queer and trans individuals in the mainstream media has increased since the first TDOR, which has brought out more allies as well as opponents in the fight to further favorable policies and protections.

“Twelve years ago, if you asked someone if they had seen a trans person or even what the word transgender meant, you’d get blank stares — now, we’re out there,” said Lisa Scheps, board member of the Transgender Education Network of Texas. “Gandhi said, ‘First they ignore us, then they ridicule us, then they attack us, and then we win.’ We’re walking that road, and it’s a scary road right now, but it’s an important one.”