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From "Remembering Our Dead"
The idea for this memorial came while posting to a message board in the Transgender Community Forum on America Online, discussing the murder of Rita Hester and the wrongful death/survivor’s action for Tyra Hunter. So many had forgotten some of the individuals we had lost in only the recent past and I felt that, by forgetting those individuals, we would be doomed to see their deaths repeated. Indeed, the passing of Rita Hester is similar enough to the death of Chanelle Pickett to leave one wondering.
We have lost so many people in our community to the hand of hatred and predjudice, yet we still are not seemingly willing to fight back. Meanwhile, we die at the hands of a lover, of police, of medical practitioners, and even parents, while the news media calls us “freaks” — and worse.
In fact, the media’s reluctance to cover our deaths lies near the heart of this project. It can be all-but-impossible to find honest, reliable media on the death of a transgendered person: It either does not exist (which is how one can cover thirty years of cases and still only have as many as I have to present), or it uses names that the deceased did not own, and pronouns that did not fit their reality.
There is no “safe way” to be transgendered: as you look at the many names collected here, note that some of these people may have identified as drag queens, some as heterosexual crossdressers, and some as transsexuals. Some were living very out lives, and some were living fully “stealth” lives. Some were identifying as male, and some, as female. Some lived in small towns, and some in major metropolitan areas.
In fact, one thing that has come to light in doing this project is how much more is yet to be done. Over the last decade, one person per month has died due to transgender-based hate or prejudice, regardless of any other factors in their lives. This trend shows no sign of abating.
I’m reminded of the words of a writer, Ralph Werther (also known as Jennie June and Earl Lind) who, in 1922, said, “Child of English Culture, reflect a moment, and ask yourself whether you are at last, in this great enlightened century of man’s existence, willing to grant justice and humane treatment to the androgyne and gynander? Do you still insist that these sexual cripples continue to suffer physical and mental torture for another century because your own pleasure bulks too large for you to hear and bear the truth about the despairing cross-sexed?”
The language may be antiquated, but the feelings are the same: will we be willing to bear yet another century of violence and hatred aimed at those who do not so easily wear “man” or “woman?”
When you look at the names here, remember these people. Cry for those who we have lost, and let your anger out for a society that would allow them to die.
—Gwendolyn Ann Smith, 8th February, 1999
Updated 22nd April, 1999
Updated 30th March, 2000