Making Meaning of Transgender Day of Remembrance

November 18, 2010

By NCLR Policy Assistant Jaan Williams

It was 2004, and I had volunteered for my school’s Queer Straight Alliance to type the individual names of transgender women and men who had been murdered on cards for Transgender Day of Remembrance.

I sat in the computer lab at school, silently typing the name of each person, where they died, details of their murders, and learning with each key stroke about the violence that claimed their lives and how unsafe it is for trans people to simply exist.

The following summer, I realized, I too was transgender, setting off a stream of emotions that were far from the joy and relief I should have experienced in finally understanding who I was. Instead, at that moment, I flashed back to the names of the women and men I had silently typed the year before, recalling the ways they had been killed. In that moment, all I understood was fear. I shook with sobs, tears rolling down my face, as I thought about what my life could be as a trans man.

It’s been five years since I began to transition. I pass now, and look male enough that most people don’t notice me on the street. But I still fear for myself, my friends, and countless others. And I can’t ever shake the feelings that I had when I first realized I was trans, or stop thinking about the countless women and men who lost their lives simply for being who they were.

According to a 2009 study conducted by the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs (NCAVP), 40 percent of hate murders committed against members of the LGBT community were against trans women of color. I cannot be content with the relative safety that I am afforded while knowing that trans women of color in my community are at such high risk of being targeted for violence.

Transgender Day of Remembrance, set for Saturday, November 20, is a day of remembering, of bearing witness, of not forgetting the names of the women and men who died, of demanding an end to the violence. This Saturday, I’ll remember Tyli’a “NaNa Boo” Mack, a trans person murdered in Washington D.C. after I moved here in 2009, and the first for whom I attended a memorial service.

If hate violence stems from a belief that some lives don’t matter, remembering those lives proves unequivocally that they do. We remember them because they were—and are—a part of us and our community, and because their lives run parallel to our own.

Someday, I hope that there will no more names to add to the list of women and men who we’ll remember on Saturday. But until that day, I’ll work to end the violence against our community.

The Heat Is On—Urge Congress to Pass ENDA Now!

September 8, 2009

With Labor Day over, Congress is back in Washington. We all know that they have a great deal on their plate, including ENDA, the Employment Non-Discrimination Act. Soon, we’ll know when the House will hold a full hearing on the importance of creating workplace protections for LGBT people. Then they will vote, and with our visible and vocal support, we have every reason to believe that ENDA is finally within reach. Then, on to the Senate!

There are two things I know about ENDA:

It is long overdue.

It will not pass without our hard work. 

Let’s turn up the heat on Capitol Hill. We must hold their feet to the fire. Congress must feel the pressure and feel the urgency to act.

We are at the tipping point: ENDA is pending in the House and Senate, there is leadership and strong bipartisan co-sponsorship in the House, and the community is united. Congressional action is imminent.

For the past year, NCLR has been working extremely closely with partner organizations to pass ENDA for the LGBT community and for all those who face discrimination in the workplace based on their actual or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity. Strategically, methodically, and relentlessly working.

 I want to tell you about NCLR’s amazing year of work on ENDA.

NCLR Legal Director Shannon Minter testified at the first congressional hearing ever held on workplace discrimination against transgender people—a critical piece of advocacy that changed the tenor on Capitol Hill. Then, to keep the profile of an inclusive ENDA high and the momentum going, NCLR wrote targeted pieces on ENDA to both Congressmembers and the Obama Administration.

We worked with a broad partnership of our movement’s national organizations who came together  to formally establish a lasting coalition to engage 400 state and local organizations committed to an inclusive ENDA—an ENDA to protect the entire LGBT community. We’ve worked to build the momentum through action alerts and coalition conference calls, pushing for grassroots action through in-district and town hall meetings, and many more efforts.

When Congressmembers Barney Frank and Tammy Baldwin told us that constituent action in Congressmembers’ home districts was the key to passing ENDA, NCLR acted immediately, hiring the only staffer in the coalition whose time is exclusively devoted to exactly that endeavor: Jaan Williams, NCLR’s organizer, who works full-time in our Washington Regional Office. Every day, he works to engage constituents to educate Congressmembers and their staffs about the problem of gender identity discrimination, to organize local action teams, and to build grassroots support for an inclusive ENDA.

Jaan has talked with hundreds of individuals in key districts all over the country. He has travelled to Denver, Colorado; Portland, Maine; and San Francisco, California to engage individuals and organizations in the effort. In April, he joined NCLR Legal Director Shannon Minter as a trainer with the National Center for Transgender Equality on their Capitol Hill lobby days. In July, Jaan went to St. Louis, Missouri to attend the Equality Federation’s conference, helping to ramp up the grassroots efforts by meeting with important state leaders. And we will continue to send Jaan to critical areas and meetings in order to build support to pass ENDA.  Jaan is a great addition to the NCLR team. He’s energetic, dedicated, and hardworking, and his efforts all over the country have helped nail down key votes on Capitol Hill.

I am proud of our work on ENDA, to end discrimination against LGBT people, and I am proud of the work of our partner organizations, too. On inclusion specifically, NCLR has long been a leader, advocating to end discrimination against transgender and gender non-conforming people through nationwide protections. The ENDA work is just one piece of our efforts, but it is a vital one because nationwide protections are at stake. Because ENDA is a top legislative priority, we’ve poured significant staff time and energy into this effort every single week this year.

I know it feels like passing ENDA shouldn’t even be a big deal for Congress. Discrimination against LGBT people is so clearly wrong and banning it so clearly right. Passage of this (actually rather modest) legislation was so practical and long overdue that President Obama campaigned on ENDA’s passage.

But let’s face reality: the deal is not done until the House and Senate pass the legislation, and the President signs the bill into law. So we are working tirelessly on ENDA—advocating, organizing, writing, and doing everything we can to get lawmakers to make ENDA  the law of the land.

Now is our moment in Washington. Our hard work on ENDA will pave the way future LGBT issues on Capitol Hill, and around the country. I can’t put it any more plainly than this: passing ENDA is essential to winning so much more.

We’re pouring our hearts and key resources into the ENDA effort.

Congress must hear from you that this bill is a priority, that you want it, and that you need it. If you haven’t contacted your Representative and Senators, please do it right now. If you already have, please do it again. It is up to all of us to pass ENDA.  

Together, we’ve reached the “leave no stone unturned” moment. We’re on it. What are you willing to do?

In solidarity,

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