The sadness and strength of Columbus Trans Day of Remembrance

Andy Downing
Columbus Trans Day of Remembrance organizers (from left) Felicia DeRosa, Eileen Galvin, Mikayla Denise and Briden Cole Schueren

For Felicia DeRosa, Trans Day of Remembrance serves not only as a chance to mourn those trans lives violently taken over the last year, but also a reminder of the strength and resilience that can be found in community with one another.

“I’m very much a mom, and for me it’s an opportunity to bring the family together to do some healing,” said DeRosa, who joined fellow event organizers Eileen Galvin, Devon Ayers and Briden Cole Schueren for a mid-November video interview. (The group's fifth organizer, Mikayla Denise, couldn’t make the call.) "I don’t know if bringing closure is the right way to put it, but we have a lot of loss [in the trans community], and I think a lot of us on some level or another sense the risk we have just living our everyday life in this environment. … I know that is something that’s in the back of my mind every time I leave the house, and I still leave the house because I’ll be damned if I’m going to be ruled by fear.

“But it's also an opportunity to bring everybody together, to lift each other and support each other, and to sometimes literally and sometimes figuratively hold on to each other, and to remind each other that, ‘Hey, everyone in this room is my sibling, is someone that gets it, is someone that is here to support me, and that I’m here to support.' For me, it feels like family.”

This year, much of the support will be provided virtually, with rising coronavirus numbers in the state leading organizers to move a majority of the day’s events online. A candlelight vigil initially scheduled to kick off at Goodale Park at 5:30 p.m. on Friday, Nov. 20, will now take place virtually, pairing with a previously planned online program that will stream on YouTube beginning at 9 p.m. (links to both events will be made availableon the Columbus Trans Day of Remembrance Facebook page). A walk-through memorial and art installation created by Schueren will still be viewable in-person on Friday at King Avenue United Methodist Church under strict COVID-19 protocols and with a mask requirement, and a video of the entire program will be compiled and made availableon the group’s Facebook page beginning on Monday, Nov. 23.

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While organizers moved the event online out of caution, they’re hopeful that doing so could also extend the program’s reach, beaming its message into the homes of trans folks who might feel uncomfortable visiting a public space. “When we are able to do things in person again, I would still want to have an online component for those of us in the community who do self-isolate, and who don’t feel comfortable leaving the house on a day-to-day basis,” DeRosa said.

Part of this discomfort can be traced to the rising violence against members within the trans community, and in particular against Black trans women. (In light of this reality, BQIC will holda car caravan for Black Trans Lives that will begin at Mayme Moore Park at 4 p.m. on Saturday, Nov 21.) According to the Human Rights Campaign,at least 37 transgender or gender non-conforming people have been killed in the U.S. this year, a number that already surpasses the29 killed in 2019.

Stemming this violence is something that will require legislative action  Schueren said a ban on the“gay panic” defense, a discriminatory legal strategy which asks a jury to find that a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity is to blame for a defendant’s violent reaction, would be a positive step  but even more than political solutions the organizers said it was incumbent on allies and others outside of the trans community to step up in order for meaningful change to occur.

“Really and truly, it’s not up to those of us living and breathing this existence to do more. It’s up to other people,” Ayers said. “There’s nothing you can ask somebody being put upon, ‘How do people be less racist? How do people be less transphobic?’ Well, I don’t know, because I’m not racist and I’m not transphobic. ... That’s a them problem.”

“To Devon’s point, it starts with the individual conversations of people in their personal networks. … That’s what it really takes for the discourse to reach a high enough level that we can see some fundamental changes,” Galvin said. “We also need to address the root causes of transphobia, because I think trans people, we represent a threat to the cultural institution of gender. Now, we’re not doing that on purpose. We’re just trying to live our authentic lives. … But trans people, we're a bridge between what people understand as the gender system. It’s a representation of the unknown, and people lash out against it. It’s not an easy problem to fix, but we have to try.”

While this edition of Trans Day of Remembrance arrives amid an undeniably challenging year, it’s not without a degree of promise, beginning with a president-elect in Joe Biden, who has at least acknowledged the existence of the trans community following four years of erasure under President Donald Trump.

“I do have a mild sense of hope with the election results … because there’s that tiny little bit of, ‘OK, well this person’s agenda is not to delete us. That’s great. I can breathe again,’” Schueren said. “There are steps now, and we have to reverse [policies] that have been put in, but it’s not this perpetual nightmare thinking, ‘What is going to be taken next?’"

“I think that’s probably the best part of it,” Ayers said. “If you really think about it, the Trump administration didn’t create prejudice against transgender individuals. It’s just that, in general, this last administration has made it a little more difficult. Being able to wake up withoutthat being a constant thing is the best thing ever. … It makes it a little easier, I guess, for us to get the work done that needs to get done.”