The 14th international Transgender Day of Remembrance has come to a close in Winona, Minn. It was a privilege to participate in the vigil at Winona State University, and again the next day at Hamline University in St. Paul. Now, safe in the quiet of my cozy home, I'm reflecting on the lives of transgender and gender-nonconforming people who have come to a violent end as a consequence of transphobia. I'm reflecting on the ongoing oppression and violence against transgender and gender-nonconforming people. I'm reflecting on my privilege. And I'm reflecting on what we can do to help bring an end to the violence.
According to statistics summarized in the recently released 2011 report of the U.S. National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs, the murder rate of LGBTQH people is at an all-time high; 87 percent of those murdered were people of color, and 45 percent of those murdered were transgender and gender-nonconforming women. Clearly, the intersection of gender identity and race is at the root of much of this violence.
Transgender and gender-nonconforming people live at the intersections of systemic oppressions. Our gender identities and expressions don't conform to the expectations of society. And if we are trans women of color, we are subject to even more stigmatization and harassment. Transmisogyny is at the root of much of the violence against trans women, and racism plays a huge role in this violence.
What can we do to help bring an end to this vicious cycle of murders of transgender and gender-nonconforming people that brings us together every Nov. 20? We need allies to interrupt the language and actions of people that feed transphobia. We must tell our own stories so that others will come to know our humanity. We must work together with allies to help others understand transgender and gender-nonconforming identities and experiences so that someday we may bring an end to the ignorance and fear at the root of transphobia. We must work together with allies for passage of legislation at all levels of government that will give justice to transgender and gender-nonconforming people. But even more than these things, we must all work together to fight for justice so that all people are respected and accepted without regard to gender identity and expression, sexual orientation, sex, race, ethnicity, social class, economic situation, ability or age.
So who are the allies whom we call upon in this work? Allies work from a position of social power and privilege to interrupt oppression that they are not personally targeted by. Allies don't just come from outside an oppressed group such as the transgender and gender-nonconforming community; they also come from within that oppressed group. Oppressed groups are often made up of a very diverse population. Consequently, people within the group have different types of privilege and power that they can use to liberate others. We must use whatever privilege we have to create change in coalition with communities that are targeted. We must be allies to one another by intentionally working in coalition across identities, boundaries, histories of violence and separation. We must begin to see our liberation as interconnected with the liberation of others.
I'm reminded of words often credited to Australian Aboriginal elder Lilla Watson: "If you've come here to help me, you're wasting your time. But if you've come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together." And so, when we change systems of oppression, we are all liberated. When transgender and gender-nonconforming people can freely express their gender identities through their presentation and the roles they play, then gender-conforming people are also free to transgress the rigid boundaries that our society has erected around the gender binary without fear of reprisal.
In closing, hear the words of the Rev. Jay Wilson of Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries, who has written prayers and a confession for Transgender Day of Remembrance:
We give thanksgiving for your transgender saints who we lost this year to violence: Sonia, Brenting, Githe, Popinha, Guilherme, Paola, Deoni, Carla, Agnes, Chiquinha, Saroya, Rosita, David, Coko, Tyrell, Menakshiammal, Paige, Rebekah, Leandro, Brandy, Anil, Chrissie, Thapelo, Tracey, Secil, Tiffany, Laryssa, Kendall, Kyra, Victoria, January; the saints we know of but not of their names, and those who died unknown. We remember those whose stories were buried with them, whose families or officials named or report[ed] them in a way that did not honor their gender. We know you know the names of their hearts. We [know] that you know them by name even when we do not. Neighbor them to us. Keep them in our hearts, and move us toward deeper community with transgender and gender-nonconforming people across your world... Give us the courage to challenge oppression, both gender-based or based on our other ways of dividing and being conquered. Love us into including all of our neighbors. Give us the light to examine ourselves, our comfort, privilege and fear, and turn us toward relationship [with one another].