Midwest Voices

A bracing celebration of KC’s Transgender Day of Remembrance

Updated: 2013-11-23T23:41:01Z

By KELLY LUCK

Special to The Star

It was already dark as we walked down the jogging trail to the J. C. Nichols Fountain. Volunteers had been setting up, lining the fountain with luminary bags and getting the candles together. Somewhere, a guitar was being tuned. I took a deep breath, and pushed myself forward. Another year.

This Wednesday marked the 15th annual observance of the Transgender Day of Remembrance, the 10th for me. Started by Gwendolyn Ann Smith in reaction to the 1998 murder of Rita Hester, the day is set aside to memorialize transgender people killed by violence over the past year. Every year we gather and read the names. Every year the candles are lit. I remember when we used to have one for each person, all arranged on the coffee table at the gay and lesbian center where we met. Now, there are just too many names.

About 60 or 70 people crowded around the fountain as it began. There were the usual words: the never-ending wish that, perhaps, next year we will not need to do this. The eulogizing of the departed. And then the reading of the names.

There were 238 of them this year. Down slightly from last year, but still nearly 20 a month. The readers came, one by one, and read out the litany of lives cut short by violence.

Valeria, 30, beaten to death. Rosa, 36, stabbed. Dalvalei and Camila, beheaded in their own home. Melony, 28, beaten to death. Evon, 22: beaten, choked, shot, body burnt and tossed into a dumpster. Unknown, strangled. Unknown, stabbed. Unknown, stoned, shot and beaten. Unknown, 13, hanged.

Thirteen.

Around us, the city had gotten quiet. The names...they just kept coming. Young ones, old ones, people with families and those whose families had rejected them a long time ago. And the unknowns, so many of them this year, so many every year.

After a while in this world, you instinctively know the story: thrown out of their home by a family that decided it was easier to discard their own child, they are sent out into the streets, essentially, a death sentence.

Not right away, of course. First comes hunger, and cold, no work available, no schooling except that gleaned from the street. Religion-based shelters turn them away, as a matter of course, and the few welcoming ones are full. The soul is worn away bit by bit until one day there is nothing left but a body and another statistic. Shot, stabbed, beaten. No name given.

Cupping my hand around my candle, I look around at the others: sisters and brothers, allies and friends. Family, in fact. How many of us are here that won’t be next year? Inevitably, my eyes fall on the luminaria placed front and center. Her name was DeeDee, she lived in this town, and two years ago she became another statistic. We remember still, and always will.

After a while, the names ended and we went our separate ways. I handed my candle back, the closing words of Natalie Sharp ringing in my ears: that these people had died for a beauty that would not, could not be destroyed. We spend years wearing these facades forced on us at birth, playing a part we never asked for and can never truly be. And when we finally pull off the mask — especially if we are nonwhite and poor — the world shunts us off to the side, leaves us behind to die forgotten.

And so we gather. Once a year, to make sure that lives are remembered, that deaths do not go unmourned, And we go back out into the world, hoping against hope to, in a small way, cleanse the world of that peculiar rage against those who refuse to conform their souls to the bodies they came in.

We started the long trek back to the car, talking quietly amongst ourselves. And behind us, the candles were collected and, one by one, blown out.

Kelly Luck works in information technology. She lives in Kansas City. To reach her, send email to oped@kcstar.com or write to Midwest Voices, c/o Editorial Page, The Kansas City Star, 1729 Grand Blvd., Kansas City, MO 64108.

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