When the candles were extinguished in a vigil at Harvey Milk Promenade park last Friday, a hush floated through the air, carrying with it a profound feeling of loss.
The extinguishing of the candles in the Transgender Day of Remembrance ceremony, attended by roughly 50 people, represented the lives of those lost to anti-transgender violence in 2015 alone. These deaths took place around the world, in places as far-reaching as India and in places as close as the U.S.’s own backyard.
“Today we live in a world of extreme dualities,” said Porter Gilberg, executive director of The LGBTQ Center of Long Beach. He noted an unprecedented number of transgender people have been visibly depicted in the public eye, people such as Laverne Cox.
“Yet, we’ve also heard deafening silence,” said Gilberg, stating that the nation is “still raw” from Houston, Texas’ rejection of an anti-discrimination ordinance that had been passed by the Houston City Council in May. “There’s a binding thread here, when we turn a blind eye […] when we are silent to those voices, we are compliant in their oppression,” Gilberg said.
According to the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs, 22 transgender or gender-nonconforming people were murdered this year, including 19 transgender women of color. This compares to 12 killed in 2014 and 13 killed in 2013.
One such casualty was 25-year-old Ashton O’ Hara of Detroit, whose name was read at Friday’s ceremony. O’ Hara was found dead in a field, after being stabbed to death and run over by a vehicle, in Detroit on July 14, 2015.
The ceremony continued, with different individuals holding candles stating the bare-bones facts of the murders occurring around the world.
“Mercedes Williamson. Seventeen years old. Beaten to death,” one of the mourners stated at the podium.
“Priscilla Da Silva. Twenty-three years old. Gunshot. Brazil,” said another.
First District Councilwoman Lena Gonzalez and Gilberg introduced the name reading segment, expressing sadness and a determination to move forward with a call to action for making the world a better place.
“I wasn’t the first, and I won’t be the last,” said Jazzmun Nichcala Crayton, one of the speakers at the event. A seasoned performer, producer and guest star on numerous television and movie projects, including The 40-Year-Old Virgin, NYPD Blue and CSI-New York, Crayton now works at APAIT, a provider of news, free HIV testing and educational resources for Asian and Pacific Islander communities.
Crayton went on to talk about her connection to Long Beach (“you are me and I am you,” she said, emphasizing the common thread of humanity woven throughout the world) and her experience with anti-transgender violence. Crayton was hit on the head years ago from behind on Cahuenga Boulevard in Hollywood.
“By the grace of God, I’m not dead,” she said. She said it was the job of every transgender youth she met to find their purpose.
“It is my desire that you follow your path, and be a leader in your own right,” Crayton said. “Don’t stop dreaming. Too many of you have disappeared over the years […] let us dream together.”
Boxer Patricio “Pat” Manuel, a five-time national boxing champion and one of the only openly transgender professional athletes in the United States, took a no-nonsense approach to the issue of anti-transgender violence.
“If you’re not down to challenge white supremacy, if you’re not down to challenge the gender binary, if you’re not down to helping the undocumented movement, if you’re not here for Black Lives Matter or for ending racial discrimination, if you’re not here for helping the homeless, if you’re not here for making sure there’s equal access to education and healthcare, if you’re not down for making sure there isn’t a spread of Islamophobia within this country, if you are not down for worker’s rights, then you are not down for trans liberation,” Manuel said.
Manuel stressed the importance of fighting “like hell” for the “ones who are just trying to keep their heads afloat” while the community mourns for lives lost, like Kai Peterson, a black transgender man in Georgia who is currently doing time in prison for killing his rapist.
The crowd listened, some crying, some eager, some angry. The group gathered in the plaza focused their attention on the act of remembrance, and paying respect to a shared appreciation for human life. Kindness extended from each individual, as they took care of their neighbor and leaned on each other for support.
With that, Manuel said he was, above all, hopeful.
“Love is something that is going to win this battle,” he said.
Photos by Keeley Smith.