I had the privilege to be the lead organizer of this years Transgender Day of Remembrance in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. This was my first time organizing a day of remembrance and my first time speaking at the event. There were other speakers, but events in the Louisiana Community compelled me to say a few words. Enough time has passed that I would like to share what I wrote and read with the Bilerico community.
My Remarks from Baton Rouge Transgender Day of Remembrance
Sadly, this event is one of the over 200 Transgender Day of Remembrance events that take place this week in 19 countries and 39 states. I say sadly because events like these should not be necessary. A day dedicated to remembering the violent murders of our transgender brothers and sisters should not be necessary.
The lives we mourn tonight should not have been taken. This event is about remembering the past so we are not doomed to repeat it.
If you leave tonight and don't dedicate yourself to fighting the ignorance and hatred that leads to the violent slaying of transgender men and women this event was a waste for you. To many have been lost because of inaction and excuses. A commitment to change things and stand together could have saved some of these people.
I may be criticized for talking about politics in this setting, but I don't know how to not talk about our shared responsibility for each other and for those we have lost when faced with the overwhelming grief this event surfaces within me.
I want to share with you a brief story that David Schwartz used to open up a sermon that he delivered.
"A former South African paramilitary commander looks across his dining room table into the interviewer's camera. He is in his early sixties, overweight, with short gray hair. He wears glasses and a polo shirt. It's late morning. He explains, speaking of his former life:
'We were at war. We believed that if the Blacks were organized they would rise up. They were trying to get weapons, and they would have used them on us. I had to do what I did to keep the country from descending into chaos. If we didn't get them, they'd be shooting at us a few years later. So we found suspects and took care of them. I did what I had to do to keep our country together and protect us.'
This is madness. He is talking about assassinating kids, a systematic program to find and kill kids: fourteen, fifteen year olds who had committed no crime, but might, someday fight against the Apartheid government. But did you hear the reasons? Did you hear that the killings weren't an act of madness or passion or blind hatred? He had reasons to do what he did, hardheaded, straightforward, pragmatic reasons.
The assassinations sicken me; the thought that they could be reasonable terrified me. I can imagine those same words coming from politicians and pundits and on editorial pages here, today. And more: coming from my co-workers, my friends. From my own mouth. That is the horror of what this commander had to say: that reasonable, well-meaning people could support reasonable, pragmatic assassination, or genocide, or ethnic cleansing. These acts are not the product of demagoguery, political trickery, or force--they are the product of bright, reasonable people making bright, reasonable arguments about how to best protect themselves. And it happens in venue less vivid than political assassination, it happens in much more ordinary ways, it happens much closer to home."
Whenever I hear well meaning gay and lesbian activists and individuals explain to me that they are in favor of including transpeople in legislation when it is assured that the legislation will pass or when they tell me that they are in favor of inclusion when it is assured that it will not pass I think about how practical and reasonable they are being.
Why pick a fight that you are convinced you can't win?
We know something that they don't. We know that across this country and the world transactivists and their allies are working together to pass laws that protect and to provide opportunities for happiness and access to resources for everyone regardless of gender identity and gender expression. Most importantly, we know that being inclusive, being fully and unflinchingly inclusive is the only option that is acceptable. It is the only option that should be acceptable.
When we decide that our own lives, our own access to resources, the ability to get married, the ability to serve openly in the army, the ability to have healthcare is more important than the basic rights of other human beings to exist, to be safe and to be themselves we are committing the worst sort of "reasonable atrocity". When these activists convey their support to me with their reasonable perimeters it is a reasonable atrocity of the worst sort.
In the past year doing community organizing in Louisiana I have heard more than once from self-appointed leaders of the Lesbian and Gay community that we have to be realistic, we must be reasonable. No one will ever vote to pass anything that includes transgender people. This intentional and willful lack of understanding and effort to do the hard work of changing people's minds is an atrocity. I suppose it is a reasonable atrocity.
Friends sarcastically call me pragmatic because of my insistence on including everyone. I want to scream at them that we are only as good as we treat each other.
I will accept nothing less than full inclusion because one of my best friends from high school who was homecoming queen grew up to look like a frat boy and was brutally gang-raped by four men as way to teach him a lesson. I will accept nothing less than full inclusion because a woman, who I worked with to do national advocacy for gender variant and transgender youth, lost her son to suicide because it was all too much for him. He was transgender and he hung himself. I have never gotten over it. I will accept nothing less than full inclusion because my first love was an ftm and I worried about him everyday when we were apart. I worried he would be taken from me because of hatred. I worried that his name would end up on the list of people we are remembering tonight. I will accept nothing less than full inclusion because my mother and my grandmother taught me to "do onto others as you would have them do onto you." While I am not a Christian I do think those are the wisest words I was taught as a child because at the end of the day we are all implicated in the murders of the people we are grieving tonight.
Because nothing we do is enough until this stops.
A FINAL NOTE
If you could take a moment and like a facebook page that some local activists have set up to send a strong message for inclusion to Louisiana based Forum for Equality and then proceed to send the e-letter that we have prepared it would be much appreciated. We have almost two hundred letters sent thus far and I would like to at least double that.