Philly to celebrate Transgender Day of Remembrance

In recognition of Transgender Day of Remembrance (TDOR), which takes place annually on Nov. 20, community organizers are holding events around Philadelphia. Trans activist Kendall Stephens and Desmond Tyrone, another strong voice in the LGBTQ+ community, have planned the official TDOR event at 6:00 p.m. on Nov. 20 to be held in front of the Gloria Casarez mural on the building that previously housed 12th Street Gym. 

Trans community activists Bri Golphin, Alonda Talley and other Philly Trans March organizers are planning a TDOR March on Nov. 20, from Clark Park to the Rem’mie Fells memorial mural on the 700 block of South 50th Street in West Philly. Members of Next Level Revival Church, an all-inclusive congregation, are also organizing two events for TDOR. One is a virtual roundtable discussion on Nov. 19 called “The Importance of End-of-Life Planning for the Trans Community,” led by Bishop Romaine S. Gibbs and Tatyana Woodard, who runs Mazzoni Center’s trans-centric drop-in space Our Way. 

“What I find is that a lot of family members might not agree with their lifestyle [as a trans person] or choice of how they live,” Gibbs said. “So upon their death they would change their identity in order to satisfy them, rather than satisfying the life they once lived. We want to make sure that [trans people] are aware of the different options they do have and things they can put in place to assure that if anything was ever to happen to them, their life would be celebrated as they desired.”

The other Next Level event is an in-person memorial service on Nov. 21 at the church space in Germantown. Mazzoni Center will be providing free HIV at-home test kits at the event.

“[TDOR] is an international day to remember all the lives of trans siblings who have passed,” said Mikah Thomas, who will speak at the memorial service. “Not only is it a way for us to memorialize them, it is a way for us to become visible in our transness. I feel like it’s a way to promote that, ‘you don’t know us from a can of paint, so why is it that our lives are being taken at an extremely alarming rate?’”

Family members of some of the trans Philadelphians who were killed will also speak at the service, Gibbs said. 

The official TDOR event at the Casarez mural will consist of a lantern fly-off to represent the trans people who have been killed, with specific sparkling lanterns to represent trans Philadelphians. The crowd will also say the names of the trans and gender nonconforming individuals who are no longer with us, acknowledge those who remain unnamed and hear brief words from speakers including Stephens, Tyrone, Elizabeth Coffey Williams, Chris Bartlett and Kelly Burkhardt, victim/witness coordinator for the District Attorney’s office.

“When I think about Trans Day of Remembrance, I think about all the ways that we have lost people,” Stephens said. “It’s not just from the hands of hate, it’s also from the oppression of society. We’ve lost far too many people because of institutions of disadvantage that have targeted queer and trans-identified individuals.”

The location of the event holds significance, Stephens said, considering the work that Casarez did as executive director of GALAEI, in her role as first director of Philadelphia’s Office of LGBT Affairs and her activism for local LGBTQ communities and communities of color.   

“I can’t think of a better place than there,” Stephens said. “Many of us who are of trans experience, we saw our beginnings in the Gayborhood, we made connections and built friendships that have lasted over the years.”

Deja Lynn Alvarez, a trans activist and community leader, usually organizes the TDOR event at William Way LGBT Community Center, she said. This year, she passed the baton to Stephens due to her involvement in election-related work. Alvarez commented on how the Trump administration’s attacks on the trans community eroded the slow but steady progress that trans folks experienced prior to the administration taking office. 

“It was slow, it was hard-fought, it was long-overdue, but we at least could see the obstacles had been removed from the road — until this administration,” Alvarez said. “And then we just continued hitting roadblocks again. We were not only in fear that we weren’t going to be able to continue moving forward, but we were in fear that we were going to go backwards, and our lives were literally at risk.”

Alvarez also commented on the importance of having more than one TDOR event.  

“Some people want to recognize it through their faith, other people want to recognize it through the services and other people just want to attend some sort of event that will at least acknowledge it and acknowledge those that we’ve lost over the last year,” she added. 

No matter how folks recognize TDOR, it is a time of unity. 

“A lot of the community didn’t get a chance to memorialize a lot of the victims, and reflect and pay their condolences,” said Mazzoni Center’s Woodard. “I think it’s amazing to find an inclusive church that would partner with us to allow this to happen and allow us to celebrate and memorialize the victims of trans violence. I think this is an amazing way for the community to start to get some peace and start to heal.

”More information can be found on the Philadelphia Trans Day Of Remembrance Facebook page.