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The Growing Importance of Trans Remembrance

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In a follow-up to my blog post from last week, I'd like to report that three days later Ms. Maddow used the phrase "sexual orientation and gender identity" when describing the protected categories under the Employment Non-discrimination Act (ENDA). I'd like to thank my friends and colleagues for reaching out to her and helping bring about this change. It's a start, and the use of accurate language will help educate our progressive friends on the issues of gender identity and expression. I hope that in the future we will see this most favorite of gay media personalities cover stories of trans content and interest as we strive to broaden support for the entire LGBT community.

This week is a somber one, as today is the 15th Transgender Day of Remembrance (TDoR), and the week is filled with commemorations and memorials, as well as days of action and community education and service. Attendance continues to grow, including that of elected leaders, such as D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray, who is one of our community's foremost champions and has attended many such events; Montgomery County Chief of Police Tom Manger; and a number of state legislators at services throughout Maryland. And the U.S. Secretary of State himself, John Kerry, said today:

The State Department joins people around the world in marking Transgender Day of Remembrance, honoring the memory of lives lost to violence provoked by fear and hatred of transgender and gender non-conforming people.



We have made tremendous progress in advancing the rights of LGBT persons. But when people continue to be harassed, arrested and even killed simply because of who they are and who they love, we know that we still have hard work before us.



The sad truth is that in too many places, including the United States, transgender persons continue to face violence and discrimination on a daily basis.



In too many cases, crimes against LGBT persons, including murder, are not thoroughly investigated or prosecuted. Transgender persons are frequently denied medical care and public services. They still suffer discrimination in employment, education, and housing.



Each of these episodes threatens our common humanity. Together, we pay a price when rights are trampled. And, together, we win when rights are protected.



That is why we are engaging diplomatically to address the specific challenges faced by transgender persons. And that's why we will continue to urge other governments to protect all of their citizens regardless of their gender identity. Through the Global Equality Fund, we are increasing support to civil society organizations to combat bias-motivated violence targeting transgender persons.



The rights of gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender persons are not special or separate or different. They are basic human rights. And human rights are universal, not negotiable.



On Transgender Day of Remembrance, we renew our commitment to ensuring that all persons are able to live safely, freely and with dignity, regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity.

That the trans community has reached that level of political importance is noteworthy, and this increase in importance and exposure feeds on itself. Yesterday there was a story that the Equality House, which lies across the street from the infamous Westboro Baptist Church, had repainted its exterior from the colors of the rainbow flag to the colors of the trans flag. It's a small matter, sure, though it took some effort, and while few people even know that there is a trans flag, let alone what its colors are, it's a gesture from allies that is bright and bold and has gotten noticed. Our networked connections can take one small house from Topeka, Kansas, and make it into "everyhouse."

Elsewhere, at the Jewish Social Justice Roundtable Network Assembly, where 130 people from 30 organizations gathered, Catherine Bell of Keshet, the national Jewish LGBT education and advocacy organization, led a TDoR service. In addition to the Keshet service, space continues to be made within other religious denominations, including a lovely service last Saturday evening in Montgomery County at Twinbrook Baptist Church, led by the indefatigable Rev. Jill McCrory. People have been planting seeds, and those seeds are taking root and beginning to grow.

A wonderfully heartfelt first-person reminiscence was posted today by my good friend Diego Sanchez, currently the Policy Director at national PFLAG. Diego was present at the creation of this annual day of remembrance, when he and friends joined together to remember Rita Hester of Allston, Mass., who was brutally murdered in 1998. A year later Gwendolyn Ann Smith of the San Francisco Bay area organized a vigil in honor of Rita and began keeping records of other horrific murders. Her reach was global, and she named the event the International Transgender Day of Remembrance.

The growing importance of this day is comforting to me, and a form of recognition and validation. Shared mourning leads to shared humanity in other forms, and while I hope we can eventually create and share more upbeat days within both the trans and LGBT communities, I ask that you all end this day on a note of hope. It does get better, because some very dedicated persons are working to make it so.

I will end with a prayer from Rabbi Reuben Zellman, called "Twilight People":

As the sun sinks and the colors of the day turn, we offer a blessing for the twilight, for twilight is neither day nor night, but in-between. We are all twilight people. We can never be fully labeled or defined. We are many identities and loves, many genders and none. We are in between roles, at the intersection of histories, or between place and place. We are crisscrossed paths of memory and destination, streaks of light swirled together. We are neither day nor night. We are both, neither, and all.



May the sacred in-between of this evening suspend our certainties, soften our judgments, and widen our vision. May this in-between light illuminate our way to the God who transcends all categories and definitions. May the in-between people who have come to pray be lifted up into this twilight. We cannot always define; we can always say a blessing. Blessed are You, God of all, who brings on the twilight.