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Transgender Day of Remembrance and the struggles of local trans people

FILE - A demonstrator holds up a sign during a march to mark International Transgender Day of Visibility in Lisbon, March 31, 2022. At least 32 transgender and gender-nonconforming people have been killed in the United States in 2022, the Human Rights Campaign announced Wednesday, Nov. 16, in its annual report ahead of Transgender Day of Remembrance on Sunday, Nov. 20.
Armando Franca
FILE - A demonstrator holds up a sign during a march to mark International Transgender Day of Visibility in Lisbon, March 31, 2022. At least 32 transgender and gender-nonconforming people have been killed in the United States in 2022, the Human Rights Campaign announced Wednesday, Nov. 16, in its annual report ahead of Transgender Day of Remembrance on Sunday, Nov. 20.

Transgender Day of Remembrance, observed on November 20, is a day to memorialize transgender, non-binary, and gender nonconforming individuals who have been murdered as a result of transphobia. In 2021, 50 fatalities were associated with transphobic acts of violence across the country. And this year, 32 fatalities have been reported.

According to data from the Williams Institute, over 1.6 million Americans aged 13 or older identify as transgender. In Florida alone, there are over 110,000 transgender individuals.

“Northwest Florida has a massive concentration of LGBTQ people, especially of transgender people,” said Devin Cole, president of Strive, a Pensacola-based advocacy group that serves the needs of transgender people. “Over the years, I’ve met hundreds of trans people who are either out, not out, or they have chosen to live a life where they transition but are not really interested in being public about it. In an area with such a high population of transgender people, there’s also going to be a lot of backlash.”

Strive, short for Socialist Trans Initiative, provides material and moral support to local transgender people who need it. Services include emergency housing, prescription coverage (primarily for hormone replacement therapy), food, transportation, mental health recommendations, or anything pertinent to the survival of transgender, non-binary, and gender nonconforming people.

“This area has a high concentration of trans people who are disenfranchised,” Cole said. “You can say this for all of Florida in this current state of affairs in which children are not allowed to hear about transgender people in public schools. It’s absolutely vital for us to be here, in this moment, to advocate for ourselves.”

Disenfranchisement of trans people can have serious and sometimes deadly outcomes. Data indicates that 82% of transgender individuals have considered suicide, while 40% have attempted suicide.

“When we live in an era where the Florida political scene is trying to push us all into conversion therapy and forcible detransitioning, our survival is the most important thing that must be guaranteed at this time,” Cole said.

Survival of transgender individuals in the community is partly reliant on access to trans-affirming mental health and support resources, which have grown locally in recent years. Acceptance, understanding, and education are also pertinent to the survival of trans people.

“The mental health crises that many transgender people face is a direct result of this oppression of trans people,” Cole said. “When you take away somebody’s right to healthcare, secure housing, or hormone replacement therapy, it absolutely does increase mental health problems. It then becomes cannon fodder for right-wing reactionaries to say ‘look at all these mentally ill people, they obviously need to be fixed’, but they are the ones who are causing this despair and distress in our community.”

Homelessness among transgender, non-binary, and gender nonconforming people is also a nationwide problem. While little data is available on the number of transgender people who are homeless, trans individuals are more likely to be unsheltered than their cisgender peers. Those who are homeless also have considerably more health and safety challenges than people who have access to housing or shelter.

“The reason that these numbers are not reported is because of the fact that in this area, there are no shelters that will accept trans people who are out and open,” Cole said.

Many homeless transgender people who seek shelter locally must detransition or go back into the closet before being admitted. Others may choose to live in encampments to avoid detransitioning.

In response to this, Strive created an emergency housing program where LGBTQ+ allies can open their homes to homeless transgender, non-binary, or gender nonconforming people. The organizationis also raising money to open an LGBTQ+ homeless shelter.

Local homeless advocate Michael Kimberl, who is co-founder and director of Sean’s Outpost and director of the Alfred-Washburn Center, says that about 3% to 5% of the homeless people he works with are transgender, non-binary, or gender nonconforming. He added that these organizations work with people from all walks of life.

“We view the LGBTQIA community as some of the most vulnerable in our community, so we give them priority,” said Kimberl. “When they come to us, we recognize the level of vulnerability that they’re at.”

Anti-trans and anti-LGBTQ statewide bills, such as the Parental Rights in Education bill or the state's move to limit gender-affirming care, have been met with a wide range of emotions from the local LGBTQ+ community. Some LGBTQ+ people, including transgender people, are looking to leave the state as a result.

“That’s one of the ultimate goals of the people who are trying to do this, to make Florida this puritan hellscape,” Cole said. “For the people who remain here, like myself, there’s a mixed bag of emotions.”

Bills like this also have detrimental effects on transgender youth. Many trans children fear for their safety in public schools and beyond.

“We try to let them know that they have an outlet with us, and if they need any assistance with people standing up for them, we try to make sure they know we have their backs,” said Indigo Lett, secretary and social media coordinator at Strive. “The reaction to these bills has been one of fear because they’re unprotected.”

One of the many struggles of transgender, non-binary, and gender nonconforming people is that they are often discouraged from being authentic versions of themselves, which can have adverse effects on mental health. While schools and shelters in the area are not always trans-affirming, employment opportunities can also prevent trans people from being themselves.

“You have a fear of coming out at your job because you don’t know how your boss is going to take it,” Lett said. “With customers, you just can’t predict, but at least with your coworkers and boss you hope that you can have some solidarity.”

Lett, who is a transgender woman, added that her struggles are often similar to those of cisgender women. One of these struggles is that of women’s safety.

“You still kind of fear, especially with me being more on the femme side, similar things to how cis femmes feel when you’re out by yourself,” she said. “I usually go with friends to places so that I won’t be alone.”

Lett and other trans activists in the community view Transgender Day of Remembrance as the past, present, and future of transgender and LGBTQ+ rights and acceptance. They also view it as a somber occasion that memorializes the victims of transphobia.

“We want to take that and turn it back to its roots in resistance where we do remember those trans people who were killed every year, we mourn them, and we remember them, but we also celebrate their lives, because we don't want them to be seen as just another statistic or faceless body,” Cole said. “They were people with goals and dreams.”

In observance of Transgender Day of Remembrance, the Unitarian Universalist Church of Pensacola will be holding a candlelight memorial service this Sunday at 10:00 a.m. to honor the lives of transgender, non-binary, and gender nonconforming people who have been killed in 2021 and 2022. The church has a Welcoming Congregation designation, meaning that people of all gender identities and sexual orientations are welcome. The church has several trans people within its congregation.

“We feel that it’s very important for our congregation to offer them a safe, welcoming, loving, and accepting community,” said Laura Keith King, president of the board of directors at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Pensacola. “That’s not what they always face out there.”

This Sunday’s memorial service will be given by Crys Brockway, a member of the church who is part of the LGTBQ+ community. Members of the church believe that no one should be killed for wanting to live an authentic life.

“We’re all human beings,” said Heather Cobb, a member of the church who helped create Sunday’s service. “We don’t all necessarily look alike or have the same opinions about everything, but at our core, we’re all people. We should all act like we belong here, we’re all on this planet together.”

Strive will also be hosting its annual Transgender Celebration of Life event this Sunday at 7 p.m. at the Pensacola Opera Center. The event will remember, mourn, and celebrate the lives of transgender people who have been lost in 2022. A transgender dance party will follow. Anyone who is LGBTQ+ or an ally is welcome to attend.

“Ultimately, the end goal is that we don’t want to have to acknowledge Transgender Day of Remembrance anymore, because ideally, no trans people should be murdered,” Cole said. “The ultimate goal of Transgender Day of Remembrance should be that it does not exist anymore. In the same string, the ultimate goal of Strive is to not exist anymore, because if Strive no longer exists, the goals, needs, and survival of trans people have been guaranteed. Until that time comes, we are here.”

In accordance with Transgender Day of Remembrance, Strive is working to raise $3,000 to help transgender people in our area. These funds will go to the hands of transgender people who need help paying for food, utilities, name changes, hormone replacement therapy, or anything that guarantees the survival of trans people. To donate, click here.

“I think one of the biggest factors is understanding,” said Kimberl. “Humans like fear and hate what they don’t understand, so not understanding where a child is coming from with these strange new terms that the TV is telling us to be afraid of can cause families to turn their backs on loved ones.”

“Understanding is where we start learning acceptance."

Hunter joined WUWF in 2021 as a student reporter.