Utah Honors Victims of Anti-Trans Violence

After a month of events celebrating transgender, genderqueer and gender-variant people throughout Utah and around the world, 2010’s Transgender Awareness Month closed with a solemn event to commemorate known victims of anti-transgender violence in the last year.

Groups in Logan, Ogden, Provo and Salt Lake City observed Transgender Day of Remembrance on Nov. 20. Founded in 1998 following the (still unsolved) murder of transgender woman Rita Hester, the day is now observed across the world.

Salt Lake City’s service was held at the First United Methodist Church, 203 S. 200 East. The church, said parishioner Mike Green in the service’s opening remarks, recently adopted “a reconciling statement that included gender, gender identity and sexual orientation.”

“We appreciate you being here and look forward to having other opportunities to serve our community in the way we should be serving them,” he said.

“A collaboration of this magnitude has never happened in Salt Lake City or statewide before,” said Christopher Scuderi, referring to the number of Utah organizations that participated in this year’s Transgender Awareness Month, which has been by far the largest celebration of its kind in state history. Scuderi, the executive director of Transgender Education Advocates of Utah, the education group that sponsored Transgender Day of Remembrance, then thanked the month’s sponsors, which included several churches, social justice groups, and lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender organizations.

Scuderi then spoke to a much more grim fact. This year he said that the day would honor 30 people from around the world who were brutally murdered because of anti-transgender prejudice and hatred.

“Unfortunately, this trend shows no sign of abating,” he said, noting that most media outlets ignore these deaths, leaving “our brothers and sisters [to potentially be] otherwise forgotten.”

“This violence affects us all,” he said, noting that the 30 dead ranged across the gender-variant spectrum from cross dressers to drag queens to transgender people. This year’s Day of Remembrance, he added, would memorialize those murders reported since last year’s observance.

“Please notice that I said ‘reported,’” he said. “For while it would be nice to say that the number had decreased [due to education about transgender issues], these crimes are often misreported or not reported.” Also not among the names of the dead, he added, were transgender people who died because hospitals denied them medical treatment because of their transgender status.

The 30 people memorialized this year came from Italy, Indonesia, Mexico, Thailand, the United States, Turkey, Honduras, Puerto Rico, Pakistan, Malaysia, the Dominican Republic and Brazil. With one exception, they were transgender women or described as individuals found wearing women’s clothing. Most were also women of color, a group that anti-transgender violence heavily impacts. They included Brenda from Rome, who was burned to death a year ago; Estrella (Jose Angel) Venegas, shot to death last December in Mexicali, Mexico; Wong from Bernama, Malaysia, found stabbed to death on New Year’s Day; Amanda Gonzalez-Andujar of Queens, N.Y., who was strangled to death in March; and several unidentified transgender women. For a complete list of names visit transgenderdor.org.

The only male among the group was also the youngest victim. On Aug. 1, Roy Antonio Jones III was beaten to death by his father, who told police that he had struck his 16-month old son “trying to make him act like a boy instead of a little girl,” according to the Day of Remembrance website.

Rev. Connie A. Anast offered a prayer for “those whose lives have been cut short by hatred, fear or violence, because they were perceived to be different.”

“They had the courage to live their lives with courage and openness. They did not conform to someone else’s view of how they should live,” she said. “We call to mind today young and old of every race, faith and gender experience who have died by violence. We remember those who died because they did not hide, or who passed, or who passed sometimes:  the reluctant activist, the warrior for quite truth, the one who no one even knew” as well as those who committed suicide due to intolerance and hatred.

“We resolve to root out injustice, ignorance and cruelty that grow despair,” she said. “May the power of love inspire and embolden us to use our anger to dismantle hate, the fear of difference and all that incites violence. We send our intentions to the universe that people perpetrating violence will understand that human experience has many faces.”

Following the service, TEA held its annual TEA Party & Awards Ceremony, during which Christopher Scuderi and his wife, Teinamarrie Scuderi made several announcements about the group’s future.

“We are now — wait for it — our own 501(c)3 tax exempt organization!” said Mrs. Scuderi before unveiling TEA’s new logo: a green image of Utah upon which the international symbol for transgender people — which incorporates both the symbol for male and female — is emblazoned. Mrs. Scuderi said that the group chose green for the new color because it symbolized “growth, spring, new emergence.”

In 2011, TEA will also be inviting other organizations to join its efforts to educate Utahns about transgender people. The first planning meeting, said Mrs. Scuderi, will be held Jan. 20 at 4:30 p.m. in the large conference room of Equality Utah’s offices.

“We would love to have that list of 26 total co-sponsors [for Transgender Awareness Month] expand, and we hope that you join our team,” she said.

Additionally, TEA will also hold a book club on the third Wednesday of each month at Diva’s Coffee Shop, beginning Jan. 19. The club, said Mrs. Scuderi, will read books by and about transgender people, and its first book will be the novel Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides.

TEA concluded the evening by presenting its annual awards for the individual, organization and politico who have “provided stellar service for the transgender community” in the past year. Board member Candice Metzler took home the award for her work in educating the community about transgender issues, and youth homelessness in particular. Plan-B Theatre Company won for best organization for its decade of service in bringing plays about gender identity such as Hedwig and the Angry Inch to Utah’s stages. Rep. Jennifer Seelig, D-Salt Lake City, received TEA’s politico award for her advocacy on Capitol Hill for Utah’s lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community.

Music was provided by Mark Packer and Scott Mills.

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