‘A lot of my friends are being killed’

At a visit to an Obama campaign field office in Sarasota, Fla. , the vice president singled out a woman who, it was reported, he thought had beautiful eyes. That woman is Linda Carragher Bourne.

A pool reporter at the event did not catch what Bourne said to Biden, but we do know that Biden told her it was “the civil-rights issue of our time.” Bourne made it clear afterward that what she asked of Biden was help for her daughter and others like her.

Her daughter is Lorelei Erisis — Miss Trans Northampton/New England 2009.

“A lot of my friends are being killed, and they don’ have the civil rights yet,” said Bourne. “These guys are gonna make that happen.”

Two weeks after the election is the 14th annual Transgender Day of Remembrance, held Nov. 20. I founded the event to help create a sense of history within the transgender community, and to point out just how prevalent anti-transgender violence is in our world.

At our first event, we had about 30 known cases. Today, we know of thousands.

To paraphrase Bourne, a lot of our friends are being killed.

These deaths are happening all around the world, to people of all ages, all races, all genders. Not everyone killed in an anti-transgender violent crime is transgender-identified, either; all it really takes is someone perceiving you to be transgender. Yet when I talk about these murders, understand that they are not abstract, happening in the far-flung reaches of the world.

These are cases like that of Brandy Martell, who was killed in Oakland, Calif., in April, or 19-year-old Tiffany Gooden of Chicago, who was stabbed to death in August, or Deoni Jones, who was shot to death in Baltimore in February.

These are our friends who are being killed.

Now I suspect that many would call Vice President Biden’s comments to task. Not just those who may be transphobic, but I suspect many who would point to the larger community and its continued emphasis on same-sex marriage. One can also point out continuing issues over race, religion and socio-economic issues as being civil-rights battles of our time. One could even point to the issue of women’s rights in the wake of an election cycle that brought us the phrases “legitimate rape” and “binders full of women.” I’m not saying that these are not important, even vital.

Yet, when I consider that one of the third-party candidates for president took issue with transgender people even having the right to public accommodations, as transgender people still face health-care restrictions, as we’re still held up for public mockery and scorn, and yes, as we are still murdered at a rate greater that one person every two weeks, I would contend that Vice President Biden has a very valid point.

In the last four years, we have seen this administration take great steps. Passport rules were eased, as well as immigration policies for transgender people. We saw the Department of Health and Human Services, the Department of Housing and Urban Development and other organizations speak out on behalf of transgender people. Title VII protections have been defined as transgender-inclusive. The administration has even appointed three transgender people into its own ranks.

Over the next four years, in between battles over the economy, over possible Supreme Court nominations and over everything else that will cross their desks, I hope we will indeed see transgender rights considered even stronger by this administration. I hope to see more work done to help transgender people, including seeing a transgender-inclusive Employment Nondiscrimination Act signed by the president in the next four years. I want to see — and will see — transgender people served under the Affordable Care Act.

And yes, I want to see more done by the Department of Justice and other federal agencies to bring attention to and strengthen laws against anti-transgender violence. I would love to see our own government putting as much attention to these anti-transgender violent crimes as we do.

I would love to see the Transgender Day of Remembrance — which was honored by the Department of Justice for the very first time last year — continue to be so recognized. I would even go so far as to say that I’d like to see President Obama proclaim the 20th of November as Transgender Day of Remembrance.

What is really important, though, is that transgender civil rights be secured. A lot of our friends are being killed, and the most important right is simply the right to live. Let’s make that happen.

Gwendolyn Smith encourages you to go to a local Transgender Day of Remembrance event. You can find her on the web at www.gwensmith.com.