Rosendall speaks at Transgender Day of Remembrance
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Rosendall speaks at Transgender Day of Remembrance

[Note: On November 30, 2006, Transgender Health Empowerment (T.H.E.) held a local day of remembrance for members of the transgender community who have been the victims of violence. They had been planning the event for some time, but changed it to Nov. 30 after the Human Rights Campaign announced its plans for an observance of the National Transgender Day of Remembrance on November 20. The Mistress of Ceremonies for the T.H.E. event was Leandrea Gilliam of the Sexual Minority Youth Assistance League. An opening prayer and concluding song were provided by Rev. Abena McCray. Musical selections were provided by the MCC/DC choir. Speakers included Gi Gi Thomas of H.I.P.S., Darby Hickey of Different Avenues, Darlene Nipper of the D.C. Office of GLBT Affairs, Ruby Corado of Whitman-Walker Clinic, Calvin Woodland (uncle of transgender murder victim Elexius Nicole Woodland), Queen Washington (mother of transgender murder victim Stephanie Thomas), Earline Budd of Miracle Hands, Sgt. Brett Parson of the Metropolitan Police Department's Gay and Lesbian Liaison Unit, Brian Watson of T.H.E. and the D.C. Coalition, and T.H.E. Board Chair Toni Collins. Rick Rosendall spoke for GLAA.]

Transgender Day of Remembrance
"That My Living Shall Not Be In Vain"
November 30, 2006
Martin Luther King Library
Remarks by Richard J. Rosendall
GLAA Vice President for Political Affairs

Good evening.

We say never again, yet the vigils and memorials keep coming, because our transgender brothers and sisters continue to be targeted for hate violence. We continue to see the telltale signs of overkill. We continue to hear of illegal profiling by police. We continue to see teenagers thrown out of their houses to face homelessness, survival sex, disease, addiction, and violence.

We hold these observances not out of morbid obsession but because we owe it to the fallen to mark their passing, to honor their courage, to repeat that the violence and hatred are not acceptable, and to recommit ourselves to changing our society one mind, one life, one relationship at a time.

Diversity is not a value to be promoted. It is a reality to be faced. Simply by going about their lives, transgender people say many things to the wider society. They say, “I exist. I am a human being and a citizen of this country. My life has as much value as yours. I demand my birthright of equal justice under the law. And I refuse to disappear.”

In the Nov. 12 issue of New York Daily News, gay writer James Kirchick wrote that “allowing people to change the sex on their birth certificate even if they have not had gender reassignment surgery is nothing less than a call for falsifying government documents. No one who purports to uphold the rule of law can support such a measure in good conscience.”

Kirchick also writes, “Gender identity is a sensitive issue, and basic decency demands that we treat it as such.” I think basic decency demands a constructive proposal and not just a statement of opposition. The fact is that many transgenders cannot afford gender reassignment surgery. When people routinely face discrimination because their gender expression conflicts with the sex on their legal identification, they deserve better from us than a denial or dismissal of the problem.

Fortunately, more and more people recognize that some folks have a mismatch between their gender identity and their sex assigned at birth, or otherwise fall somewhere between the poles of male and female. The more this recognition of reality spreads, the harder it will be for people to maintain a posture of denial.

There is reason for hope, but we have a long road ahead of us. We live in a place where the city council unanimously passed an amendment to the Human Rights Act making explicit its prohibition of discrimination based on gender identity or expression, yet we still have hate crimes. Translating our policies into reality on the street is a hard thing to do.

We can find encouragement in small steps forward. There is a good chance that a transgender-inclusive hate crimes bill will pass in the new Congress. Here in hometown D.C., the election of a new mayor gives us a chance to demand a new fire chief who will confront transphobia among firefighters. It gives us a chance to build on the progress made in the Metropolitan Police Department by the Gay and Lesbian Liaison Unit.

Much is needed. Our transgender homeless need more than shelter – they need job training, drug treatment and mental and physical health services, along with less tangible things like encouragement and acceptance and a sense of security.

Working for change is difficult. We will inevitably have our disagreements. To move forward we need to find ways to further discussion rather than shut it down, to build productive relationships rather than throw up walls of distrust. We have to learn to reach across and work through our differences.

Two qualities that have deeply impressed me about friends who confronted HIV and AIDS are courage and grace. I see the same qualities in my transgender friends. To endure intolerance on a daily basis just to go about your life with integrity, just to defend your abiding sense of who you are, takes extraordinary grace and courage. Part of why we honor those who came before us is that their strength in the face of adversity inspires us to find our own sources of strength. They remind us that we are not isolated creatures, but heirs of a tradition and participants in a struggle greater than ourselves.

Each of the fallen, like each of us, was a precious, irreplaceable child of God. We honor them and will not forget them. We can ensure they have not died in vain, not by reciprocating the violence of others, but by fostering understanding. We can teach our nation’s children to respond to the rich variation of the universe not only with fear, but with wonder. That could lead to a new discovery of America – an America that was always here, but that many are seeing for the first time.

Thank you.