Philly communities unite to mark Trans Day of Remembrance

The 2020 Philly Trans March. (Photo by Kelly Burkhardt).

Trans community members and allies will come together later this month to mourn trans lives that have been lost to violence and hatred. On and around Transgender Day of Remembrance (TDOR), which falls annually on Nov. 20, Philadelphia community organizers will honor and fight for trans lives through different events. 

The City’s Office of LGBT Affairs will raise the trans flag at City Hall on Friday, Nov. 19. 

“Trans Day of Remembrance is not just a time to remember those in the transgender community whose lives have been lost to violence, marginalization, and prejudice, but also a time to renew our commitment to creating a brighter future for our trans community,” Celena Morrison, director of the Office of LGBT Affairs, said in a statement. “I’m proud to fight every single day to ensure that our trans community is safe, protected, and respected.” 

On Nov. 20, Philly Trans March (PTM) organizers will lead a “silent march and community-guided scream” at Norris Square Park at 1 p.m. The QTBIPOC social justice org GALAEI will provide space after the event to help trans and nonbinary folks connect with community-based organizations (CBOs) and Black-owned businesses. PTM organizers are working on securing pop-up CBOs in the vicinity of Norris Square Park and GALAEI, where community members can gather after the march.     

In addition to memorializing those who are no longer with us, “What I think should also be centered on instead of sadness, [TDOR] should be a day of — how do we put up a fight,” said PTM organizer Bri Golphin. “Trans Day of Resistance, or Trans Day of Resilience or Trans Day of Remembering — I feel like with the ‘R’ you can use so many terms.”  

They spoke of the need to protect trans community members in the face of continued murders of trans people in the U.S.

“We should be fighting for that life expectancy to be the same as our cis counterparts,” said Valentina Rosario-DeJesus, who leads the Transgender, Intersex, Non-binary and Gender Non-conforming Services program at GALAEI. 

She wants the silent march and TDOR space to be “a healing space. And this is also a community space. Not going to say this is a safe space, I’m going to say this is a brave space because we have yet to have spaces that aren’t solely trans people — our spaces don’t have to but do include cis folk.” 

Not only have murder rates been sources of tragedy in trans communities, the loss of employment, lack of stable or affordable housing and financial uncertainty are also roots of anxiety and sadness, Golphin said.  

“Sometimes it does get a little daunting to constantly be like, fight, fight, fight,” they added. “We sometimes need a break from that to figure out how we want to heal ourselves, [to] maintain ourselves, to motivate us, to keep going or just to hold each other up.”

Darius McLean, who runs the Arcila-Adams Trans Resource Center at William Way LGBT Community Center, is planning a private TDOR event for Morris Home residents on Nov. 18. It will consist of a meetup with food, a clinical therapist who will speak to attendees about how they incorporate astrology and tarot into their practice, as well as conversations about “what visibility would look like to us and what it would mean to have our lives celebrated every day,” McLean said. The 36 grant recipients of the Arcila-Adams Black Empowerment Fund will also be announced at the event. 

For McLean, TDOR is not just a day to remember those whose lives were stolen. “It also is a day where we’re aware of our resilience as a community, whether we want to have to remain resilient,” he said. “It’d be nice to just live instead of having to think about what we will survive, or have to thrive. In some ways, it feels like a day of mourning but sometimes that’s the thing that heals us to do something different. I use it as a time to talk about, so [how do we] honor our lives every day and celebrate our lives every day.” 

Trans activist and Temple University student Kendall Stephens is organizing a vigil on Nov. 20 from noon to 6 p.m. on the Temple main campus, followed by the reading of names of those trans folks who lost their lives to violence. For this TDOR event, Stephens collaborated with Temple’s Office of Institutional Diversity, Equity, Advocacy and Leadership; Brad Windhauser, professor of English and Gender, Sexuality and Women’s studies at Temple; and the student group Students for Trans Awareness and Rights (STAR). 

“I believe that the death of trans people, specifically Black transgender women, is considered an epidemic by the Human Rights Campaign,” said Jackson Burke, a member of STAR. “It’s not just a problem, it’s a full-blown epidemic. It’s been getting worse every year. The past two years I have seen a huge increase in the number of names that we’re mourning and the people that are dying.”  

Stephens emphasized the importance of allyship to protect and uplift trans communities. 

“I wanted this to be an event where our allies who are in partnership with us to help ease our burdens that we have to carry with us day in and day out because of transphobia and transmisogyny,” she said. “To go out in these spaces and advocate for us and support us, that’s part of what an ally does.” 

She plans to pay homage to Maurice Willoughby, a cisgender Philadelphian who dated and stood up for trans women, and was publicly harrassed for it. He ultimately died by suicide in 2019, the cause unclear.

“What we don’t ever seem to talk about is how transamorous men are affected by these hostile transphobic and transmisogynistic environments,” Stephens said. “In many communities, if it becomes known that someone who is perceived as being cishet [is] attracted to or has been intimate with a trans woman, that will have devastating consequences for them.” 

Although members of the trans community may acknowledge TDOR in different ways, a common denominator for many folks is outrage that trans people are still being killed.

“There’s more than one good reason to remember,” said Elizabeth Coffey Williams, who co-facilitates the weekly support group TransWay with Stephens. “There’s visibility, consciousness-raising, community-building, solidarity, even if it’s solidarity through being furious that this is still going on after all this time.” 

For cis people who may not be aware of trans communities and their organizing initiatives around trans liberation, “they need to do better,” said Golphin of Philly Trans March. “Deep down it’s kind of like, why do we have to have a march to mention all of these new names? Because every year it’s a new name. We don’t like being reminded that we are still this societal stigma.”

In the spirit of doing better, Burke of Temple’s STAR group said, “I really need to see white members of the trans community stand up more for trans people of color who are in their community.”