Community feature: Transgender Day of Remembrance returns amid fight for civil rights
According to the Human Rights Campaign, 29 transgender people were killed in the U.S. last year — the most ever recorded. And yet the number was likely higher. The statistics don't account for deaths that are reported under victims' birth names, or deaths that aren't reported at all.
Local artist and CCAD instructor Felicia DeRosa, who identifies as a trans woman, went through the names, collecting details about where they were from, how they were killed and who they were.
“It's depressing,” DeRosa said during an early-November interview at King Avenue United Methodist Church, where she is a youth leader. “In my mind, it's one of my [students]. It could be me. I was just destroyed for days after that, and had to get myself back together.”
So far in 2018, there have been 22 transgender homicides, which DeRosa will also investigate. Her purpose for doing so is to participate in Transgender Day of Remembrance, which recognizes victims worldwide each year on Nov. 20.
A Columbus ceremony will take place for the third year at King Avenue UMC. The event is organized by DeRosa and J.J. and Aubrey Glasser — all board members of nonprofit TransOhio, which provides services, education and support for trans and ally communities.
“It's almost like a memorial service, in a way, to pay homage to all those people that had been taken from us,” J.J. said, “and make sure they aren't forgotten.”
The event is powerful. DeRosa recalled a moment last year when she asked every trans person in attendance to stand.
“It was a very moving moment because everyone saw everyone else,” she said. “There was that moment of, ‘I'm not alone.' And all the people who were sitting, I said, ‘These people are your allies. … Here is community.'”
Standing in solidarity is proving even more important this year, in light of the Trump administration'sproposal to define gender “on a biological basis,” determined by genitals at birth. The suggested policy, released in a Department of Health and Human Services memo, would essentially eradicate the term “transgender,” and put legal protections for the group of 1.4 million Americans in jeopardy.
“It's a lot easier to kill us or oppress us if we don't exist in paperwork,” said J.J., who identifies as a trans man. “It's the first step to erasing the progress that we've made. … They could deny us our basic civil rights because, technically, we don't exist anymore.”
The memo inspired national resistance through #WontBeErased social media campaigns and rallies, including one in Columbus, co-organized by DeRosa, at the Statehouse and Goodale Park on Nov. 7.
“I was incensed,” DeRosa said of her reaction to the memo. “I was fuming. I could feel my blood boiling, like I was gonna just start spitting acid.”
DeRosa's mind went to multiple places. She thought of queer people who feared coming out during the AIDS epidemic due to the recurring hate crimes. She thought about trans people who were denied the medical care needed to transition. She thought of a time when proper medical care didn't exist.
But most of all, she thought of the queer youth in her life, many of whom have been bullied.
“I look at them like cousins and nieces and nephews and, a few of them, like my own children,” she said. “I have that kind of love for them. … I want them to be OK.”
“I don't think people understand the severity of our situation,” she continued. “We're a marginalized group. We still get fired from jobs. We still get evicted from homes. We get thrown out of churches. We get thrown out of our families. We can end up homeless.”
To DeRosa, the memo threatens the small progresses that have been made, and could force people back into the closet. She challenges the trans community to keep sharing their stories.
“We need to be louder than the people that speak against us,” she said. “We need to be smarter and we need to disprove all their misconceptions about us.”
DeRosa also stressed the importance of having allies outside the queer and trans communities show up to rallies and events like the Transgender Day of Remembrance.
And more self-acceptance is needed, she added.
“I think it's vitally important,” she said, “for our society as a whole to be told that who you are is OK.”
King Avenue United Methodist Church
7-9 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 20
299 King Ave., Campus