Join TransJustice of the Audre Lorde Project, Queer Detainee Empowerment Project, Sylvia Rivera Law Project, Fierce!, and Streetwise & Safe as we lift up the lives of our comrades lost to violence, celebrate the resiliency of trans and gender non-conforming people of color, and come together as a community committed to struggling across differences for our shared liberation. RSVP here!
Únase con TransJustice de AAudre Lorde Project, Queer Detainee Empowerment Project Sylvia Rivera Law Project, Fierce!, y Streetwise & Safe a levantar las vidas de nuestr@s camarad@s perdid@s a la violencia, y a celebrar la fortaleza de las personas trans y de género no conforme de color. Nos uniremos como una comunidad comprometida a luchar a través de nuestras diferencias para nuestra liberación. Confirmar su asistencia aquí!
Hello, everyone. Thank you all so much for being assembled here today and thanks especially to the Audre Lorde Project for giving me the opportunity to speak to you today.I want to start off by telling you about someone who thankfully is not on this year’s list. But make no mistake, just because she was not killed by her attackers, this does not make her “lucky”. Marichuy Leal Gamino is a young transgender woman who was born in Mexico and immigrated to Arizona with her parents as a child. She was detained last year by ICE and held in a men’s facility despite her clear identification as female. During her time at the Eloy detention facility, she experienced repeated harassment from both the guards and her fellow inmates. This pattern of mistreatment tragically culminated in her rape by an inmate earlier this year. When she tried to report her rape through the “proper channels” — that is, through the detention center’s administration — attempts were made to coerce her into signing a statement that the rape had been “consensual”. When she tried to express her trauma, she was thrown into solitary confinement against her will, a practice that is increasingly being recognized as an extreme form of torture. Despite public outrage at Marichuy’s condition expressed through scores of protests and petitions from LGBT organizations nationwide, she continues to be held in detention to this day with no accountability or progress with her case.At the Queer Detainee Empowerment Project, we represent trans and queer folks from all over the world. While examples like Marichuy’s are both horrifying and all too common, we have to remember that this is just one manifestation of the violence that all immigrants face. Our immigration system is a fundamentally violent system, even for those who manage to get through the process physically unharmed. Just like with prisons, the privatization of immigration detention has created an environment where the corporations that run and service detention centers have pressured very willing lawmakers into establishing a de facto quota system that makes it mandatory for ICE to arrest thousands of people each day to keep the detention centers full. This includes dozens of trans and gender non-conforming people each day, the majority of whom are transgender women. This environment creates a culture in which immigrants cannot live with any kind of guarantee of their safety regardless of their legal statuses or personal actions leading up to detention. Once detained, it is not uncommon for people to spend years waiting to go before a court. We at the Queer Detainee Empowerment Project represent a client who spent seven years in single stint and another who spent a total of over twelve years over multiple detentions. Flying in the face of the Prison Rape Elimination Act, transgender people, especially transgender women, are routinely housed in contradiction with their lived genders and, like Marichuy, find themselves confronted with Kafkaesque bureaucracies that refuse to take complaints seriously. Currently, one in five victims of sexual assault in detention centers are transgender women, even though they are only one out of every five-hundred detainees.Now, I want to highlight the fact that the vast majority of those trans people are not targets of violence just because they are transgender. The people we commemorate today were targeted because they were transgender and women, transgender and immigrants, transgender and poor, transgender and sex workers, transgender and people of color. The transgender activist and writer Julia Serano described trans women as “whipping girls” of our society — a group of people who occupy those particular margins where the corrosive byproducts of our collective myth-making around gender and normality are dumped such that the vast majority can safely ignore them while enjoying the rewards of stability. This concept of being a “whipping girl” or “whipping boy” is just as relevant regarding our other shared social myths, such as around race or economic inequality. And once we recognize this, it is an obvious enough truth, then, that the more of these social dumping sites one occupies, the higher their chance of being poisoned. Marichuy was exposed to the danger she was and denied the means to protect herself from that danger because she was an immigrant trans woman subject to the control of a corrupt and inhumane immigration system, not because she was a random trans woman walking down the street. Trans women of color in the United States, like Zoraida Reyes and Tiffany Edwards, are long denied the justice to which they are supposedly entitled not just because they are transgender, but because they are people of color in an unequivocally racist legal system.
No matter how we feel about ceremonealizing death, we have to recognize that for many transgender people and queer people more broadly, commemorating those we have lost is more often than not a luxury we cannot afford to take for granted. For every Zoraida Reyes or Tiffany Edwards, there is at least one Jane Doe, someone too brutalized or too insignificant to identify. This is especially true for immigrants who separated from their homes and rendered into a system that criminalizes them and strips them of their individuality so totally that recognition becomes nearly impossible. Even when we do recognize some precious person whose life was taken away, it is tragically common for certain aspects of their lived experiences to remain as unspoken in death as they were in life. It is often up to those who shared love and solidarity with the departed — fellow trans and queer people, fellow immigrants, fellow sex workers — to fight families or communities who, whether out of prejudice, propriety, or estrangement, refuse to acknowledge the deceased as they wanted to be acknowledged.Commemoration is but one part of remembering, though. This is not a Trans Day of Remembrance when most of us can’t place any kind of a human face to the names we read. This is not a Trans Day of Remembrance if it gives us license to forget every other day of the year. And, hypothetically, even if we *were* to take our acts of remembering as seriously as we should, remembrance is not and will never be the same as justice. These deaths are meaningless if they prompt us to think about some homogenous set of “transgender experiences” while we remain stubbornly silent when our legal systems perpetuate and expand the backwards laws and indiscriminate police tactics that leave immigrants, sex workers, and others so at risk and so vulnerable. These deaths are meaningless if we focus on the senselessness of the violence and fail to recognize just how normal it is.Remembering gives us a chance to acknowledge, and acknowledging gives us a chance to learn. But what we choose to learn and what we choose to do with that is entirely up to each and every one of us. Violence against trans people around the world will not be abated by any number of days of remembrance, pride marches, or characters on TV. What will make a difference for trans people is the commitment and the hard work to engage those systems that produce the “whipping girls” and “whipping boys”, even if it means chipping away at the sources of our own comforts and safety.
To all of you gathered here tonight, I will end my remarks by challenging each of you who will read and hear the names on this year’s list to take those names home with you and keep them in a place you will see it repeatedly. Remember those names whenever you can. Go online and learn as much as you can about them. Do whatever you can to turn those names into people. Imagine those people not in death, but as a vital beings in the world.To borrow from the transgender legal scholar and activist, Dean Spade, try to imagine them as they might have looked through the eyes of someone who truly loved them, who saw them as a whole person, and not as either an anonymous data point or an abstract martyr. Once you have known them and loved them and truly embraced their humanity, let them go. Meet more trans people inside and outside your communities. Be friends with them. Listen to them. Because the dead need no one to fight for them, and the living will always need others to fight with them.And finally, to those sisters and brothers to whom this night is dedicated, I and many others will not bid you to rest in peace. There should be no peace for anyone as long as this violence continues as it does. No, we bid you to rest in power; the power that you showed in life and the power that you give us to stop this violence wherever we might see it.