11/20/2013 02:19 am ET Updated Feb 02, 2016

Transgender Day of Remembrance: Remembering My Fallen Transgender Sisters Who Loved Me When I Was All Alone

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Transgender Day of Remembrance occurs each year on Nov. 20. It is a day to memorialize transgender people who have been killed as a result of transphobia, or the hatred or fear of transgender and gender-nonconforming people, and acts to bring attention to the continued violence endured by the transgender community. The Transgender Day of Remembrance was founded in 1998 by Gwendolyn Ann Smith, a transgender graphic designer, columnist, and activist, to memorialize the murder of Rita Hester in Allston, Mass.

Today I remember 11 fallen transgender brothers and sisters of mine who were killed as a result of transphobia. Over the past 20 years I have encountered lots of hatred and discrimination, but by the grace of God, I have endured and overcome my enemies. We are a small community within the LGBT community, but we face more discrimination and hatred than any other group, especially my transgender brothers and sisters of color. The hatred of transgender people always comes from a place of ignorance and fear. I realized during my early transitioning days over 17 years ago that by being my authentic self, I was endangering my very own life and well-being. No one deserves to lose their life for being true to themselves and living their life as they desire.

The National Transgender Discrimination Survey found that transgender people face higher rates of discrimination than any other group under the LGBT umbrella, and that discrimination against transgender people of color is the highest of all the categories. The discrimination may take place in the home, at schools, on jobs, at churches, and in all aspects of the transgender person's life. The mere presence of a transgender individual can incite violence from an individual or group.

During my early transition years, when I had been abandoned by all those close to me, I turned to the transgender community for support. I found broken hearts, battered bodies, crying eyes, and torn spirits, but a sisterhood of acceptance without any judgement. It was then that I released my fear, shame and guilt around being an African-American transgender woman. Yes, I was broke, alone, poor, and homeless, but there was a sense of joy in being free.

Today only two of my 13 closest sisters are alive. I close my eyes and see them standing next to me on the street, proud of who they are and never ashamed of their identity. I applaud my fallen sisters for showing me the way with the grace of God.

I applaud all my transgender brothers and sisters for being authentic and true to yourselves, and I encourage you to keep striving, fighting, and enduring sometimes insurmountable odds. My belief in God has allowed me to keep moving forward at all costs.

I met Dr. Maya Angelou over 33 years ago at Wake Forest University, and her poem "Still I Rise" has always been a source of encouragement to me in my dark hours. I interviewed Dr. Angelou over a year ago, and her words of encouragement were heartwarming.