Sunday marks a somber day for transgender Chicagoans as their friends and supporters memorialize members of their community who have lost their lives to hate violence.
Transgender Day of Remembrance (TDOR) began in 1998 as a community response to the murder of Rita Hester, an African-American trans woman living in Massachusetts. In the years that have passed since then, solidarity events have sprung up all around the world and the scope of the event has broadened somewhat as some activists also see the event as an opportunity to celebrate progress made by trans community over the course of the preceding year.
In Chicago, this year's commemoration comes following the Thursday death of Lois Bates, whom event organizers described as "a luminary in the community."
Bates, transgender health manager at the Howard Brown Health Center before her passing, had a long history of advocacy on behalf of Chicago's trans community and hosted the Center on Halsted's annual "Night of Fallen Stars" event, which honors TDOR. As the Windy City Times reports, she will be dearly missed by many.
"She was a lover, a fighter, an activist, an advocate and an inspiration to many including myself," Owen Daniel-McCarter, attorney with the Transformative Justice Law Project of Illinois, told the Windy City Times.
"It is with Lois' grace of understanding, acceptance, guidance, and unstoppable courage I am who I am today," Helena Bushong, Chicago trans advocate noted.
Also on the minds of Chicagoans gathering the commemorate TDOR Sunday will likely be the recent death of 19-year-old Detroit trans woman Shelley Hilliard. Hilliard had been missing since Oct. 23 before her torso was found burned near I-94 earlier this month. She had been decapitated.
Last year, commenting on the community response to the shooting death of 28-year-old African-American trans woman Sandy Woulard, of Chicago, in an interview for Gapers Block, Bates urged trans Chicagoans to push back against the violence and discrimination that frequently threatens their community by going about one's day-to-day life with unabashed pride.
"The trans community is kind of invisible and we need to change that in those important places so people know we matter as well," Bates said. "It's a cause that nobody else can do for us. We have to do for ourselves. ... We need to remember that we are important, to step into the forefront and make some movement for ourselves."
Data released this year [PDF] by the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs, which tracks reports of hate violence against LGBT people, found that 44 percent of the reported victims of anti-LGBT murders in 2010 were trans women. The National Transgender Discrimination Survey [PDF], released this year by the National Center for Transgender Equality and the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, reported that many trans and gender non-conforming Americans face disproportionate rates of employment discrimination, homelessness, poverty and violence.
Chicagoans will mark TDOR with a memorial service honoring Bates in addition to Hilliard and the 22 other known victims of anti-transgender hate violence over the past year at the Center on Halsted's Hoover-Leppen Theatre, 3656 N. Halsted, beginning at 6:30 p.m. Sunday.
Photo by Zol87 via Flickr.