This oration was delivered during Aniya "Ray Ray" Parker's memorial service at Unity Fellowship Christ Church in Los Angeles on October 12, 2014. Aniya was a 47-year- old African American transgender woman who was gunned down on the street in East Hollywood. Her murder was one of 12 reported homicides of transgender women in the United States in 2014.
I never knew Aniya "Ray Ray" Parker until after she was gone.
However, I'd like to honor Aniya with a history lesson of her life. More specifically, I'd like to take us through a transgender history lesson, through a part of the broader civil rights movement that is rarely told.
Aniya was born in November of 1966, just three months after the spark of the transgender movement in this country: the Compton Cafeteria Riot in San Francisco's Tenderloin district. How many of you have heard of the Compton Cafeteria Riot?
This momentous event isn't included in the history books, just like so many of our stories. In fact, we don't even know the exact date of the riot. But it was the first time transgender and queer people stood as a group against abuse and discrimination.
At that time "cross dressing" was illegal and the police were cracking down on the transsexuals, cross-dressers, and queer youth at Compton's Cafeteria, arresting them and viciously abusing them. One hot night in August 1966, the community had had enough. When a police officer went to arrest a transgender patron, it's legend that she threw coffee in his face and thus began the riot - with plates and dishes and furniture, and probably some high heels, flying. Those women fought back. We, trans people, have a history of fighting back against injustice.
Yes, Aniya was born into a tumultuous time for the transgender community in this country. Throughout her life, there was tremendous hardship for trans people and also tremendous progress.
Growing up in the late 60s and through the 70s and 80s, it was a different era. The few transgender support groups that existed were secret and underground. There were no laws to protect us -- in fact, most states had laws making us illegal. There was no internet for information and community. There were no churches like this one, where we gather together openly as LGBTQ people of many races, languages, ages, and gender expressions. Until the 1980s the medical community deemed we were sick and deviant, and our community was subjected to inhumane treatment at the hands of doctors seeking to "cure" us. There was one or two famous transgender role models, but none that were people of color, no Laverne Coxes and Janet Mocks, trans people were mostly just caricatures in the media.
Aniya lived through all of this. Aniya lived through a lot.
Knowing this history in our country, it took such strength and courage for Aniya to live as her authentic self. It took strength and courage to walk down the street as a transgender woman of color, as Aniya was doing the night she was killed. "That visibility which makes us most vulnerable is that which also is the source of our greatest strength," the great Audre Lorde said. I'm here tonight because I honor that strength.
A lot has changed over the past five decades -- now we have laws that protect us, we have organizations that advocate and support us, we find doctors that treat us humanely, we have media here covering Aniya's death with respect. But clearly, we are here today, at this memorial service, because there is more that needs to change.
We can end the violence against transgender people. I know this is possible because that history lesson -- that is just one small slice of transgender history. In other histories, transgender people have been respected and even revered. In Native American cultures, two spirited people who crossed over genders have been considered sacred, shamans. Some Native American tribes had five or even seven genders. In India and in Hindu faith, throughout time, the hijra (people of the third gender) held a special place in ceremonies and were celebrated in the community. This lens of history gives us the vision for a society where Aniya is honored and protected.
It is in our hands to love the trans people in our communities and in our families. Beloved bell hooks said, "Love is an action, never simply a feeling." We can love through educating those around us, we can love by calling people out when they ridicule "trannys," we can love by supporting organizations doing the advocacy, we can love by simply telling a trans person "I see you and honor you for who you are."
Let us keep Aniya in our hearts and spread our love with our actions. With that we will invoke justice. In the words of the great Cornel West, "Never forget that justice is what love looks like in public."
This post is part of the "28 Black Lives That Matter" series produced by The Huffington Post for Black History Month. Each day in February, this series will shine a spotlight on one African-American individual who made headlines in 2014 -- mostly in circumstances we all wished had not taken place. This series will pay tribute to these individuals and address the underlying circumstances that led to their unfortunate outcomes. To follow the conversation on Twitter, view #28BlackLives -- and to see all the posts as part of our Black History Month coverage, read here.