Keynote Speech for Transgender Day of Remembrance

Blessed are our honoured dead this day. Blessed are their names, blessed are their lives, and blessed are their memories.

Welcome all, to the PRIDE [city name] annual Transgender Day of Remembrance memorial. My name is Andrea, and I am a transwoman you know.

I knew I was different when I was seven years old. The box labeled “boy” did not fit but I did not have the vocabulary to name the Other. Even if I had possessed the vocabulary, it was impossible at that time in the South to declare oneself to be something our culture saw as evidence of a sick and delusional mind. Such declarations usually ended with confinement to a state mental institution – like the one a mere forty miles northeast of my childhood home.

I found the vocabulary fifteen years later when I discovered the word “transgender” on the Internet. As I began to research and plan for a necessary evolution towards authenticity, I ran into a wall of violence and prejudice. I was miserable as I tried to hide who I knew myself to be, but food and shelter are powerful motivators.

In 2009, everything I had worked to achieve came crumbling down. I moved to Chicago, and at the age of thirty-nine, I demolished the remaining pieces of a façade I built to protect myself. It was time to become the person I have always known myself to be, and it was time to build a real future. As I transitioned, I took notice that I was protected from the worst of the violence perpetrated against my community by the colour of my skin and the age of my body.

I am now forty-one years old. I turn forty-two in January, and according to the sociologists who have analyzed the trends in my Community, I should be dead. A transgender person’s life expectancy is thirty-two years, which makes me nine years past my expiration date – and yet, against all the odds, here I stand in front of you, reading the names of our honoured dead.

Those same sociologists tell us that my community’s mortality rate is approximately 60%, and our average suicide attempt rate is 41+%. They aren’t wrong about those numbers either – I’ve seen, first hand, just how deep the abyss goes, how dark those nights are, and just how sharp the edge of the razor blade is.

My kin of visible colour are murdered at the rate of one in every twenty-nine hours.  In 2015, at least twenty-three of my sisters of colour have slaughtered by the hands of hatred as our society turns a blind eye. We decry the violence and the loss of life, but we never act to end it.  

We do not act to uplift and affirm trans people’s lives in meaningful ways. Instead, we act in the theatre of allyship, crying on cue with the expected wailing and gnashing of teeth. We are not in the streets, the city councils, the local and state governments advocating for the safety of my community.

I have looked into the eyes of the police on patrol in my neighbourhood, and I know I am not safe. In their eyes, I am contemptible, a freak, an outcast. I cannot trust them to come to my aid should it be necessary. These are the attitudes get trans people killed and our killers exonerated.

These are also the things that happen when grassroots support for gender equality legislation is allowed to be corrupted in the name of “public safety”. Our ID’s are checked to ensure we urinate in the “right” bathroom. We are branded “dangerous”.  We are dehumanized and attacked by the very people who should be protecting us. Our bodies become political – and our allies are silent as we fight to become the body politic.

On the screens behind me are the names of one hundred twenty transgender people lost this year. As we read the names on the list aloud, remember the words of Leelah Alcorn, who wrote “Fix Society”, in a blog post published shortly after she stepped in front of a bus to take her own life. Remember her words, and remember that my name easily could be on this list next year. Remember that it could be your mother, your brother, a friend, a colleague – we are more than just names and “tragedies”; we deserve more than to be a list read once a year.

I refuse to be silent any longer. My name is Andrea, and I am a transwoman you know. Fix society.

Blessed are our honoured dead. Blessed are their names, blessed are their lives, and blessed are their memories.

Please join me in silence as we read the names of our beloved dead – and remember, each of these names was a person as real as you or I.

[Reads the names of the dead]

Our one hundred twentieth name was added today. Her name is Vicky Thompson, and she was murdered while incarcerated in a men’s prison in Leeds, UK. Fix society, indeed.

[Benediction]

Blessed are the dead.
Blessed are the names of the dead.
Blessed are the hands of God, for ours is the work to do.
Blessed are we.
Blessed are we to be here.
Blessed are we to be here today.
Gentle people go, in peace.