Philly to honor Trans Day of Remembrance

Flame of many candles burning on the background in blue and yellow color
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Transgender Day of Remembrance (TDOR) is nearly upon us once again, a time to reflect on, mourn and celebrate trans community members whose lives were taken because of hate-fueled violence. It comes at the culmination of Transgender Awareness Week, a time when individuals and entities help educate the broader public about the trans community, amplify the stories of trans folks, and push for “advocacy around issues of prejudice, discrimination and violence that affect the transgender community,” according to GLAAD.

Numerous TDOR-related events are taking place in Philadelphia on and around TDOR itself on Nov. 20.

William Way LGBT Community Center, the Office of LGBT Affairs, Independence Business Alliance and TransWork will co-host an event in light of TDOR on Nov. 20 from 6-8 p.m. at William Way.

This year’s event will be “a big old repass for every trans person that lost their life, whether it was 1999 or 2003 or 2023,” said Tyreef King, who coordinated the event.

In Black culture, a repass is a time when loved ones gather after the funeral service to have a meal and celebrate the life of the dearly departed.

“I myself am going to pay homage to our ancestors,” King said. “I’m going to try to make it where we can be respectful of those who are still mourning because I’m still mourning people who we’ve lost. I want to continue to be respectful of that and at the same time, celebrate.”

At the event, Philly-based Black trans chef and musician Chef Marcu will sing; family-style tables will be set up for communal dining; and a tribute to the trans recording artist Cookie Tookie, also known as Samantha James, will manifest in the form of a dance-off. Cookie Tookie died in late 2022. 

“She was from Philadelphia but her life had took a turn,” King said. “She ended up in LA; the drugs and the mental health issues kind of took over. [We’re] allowing people to know that she made music, to keep her spirit alive.”

Representatives of Hibiscus Rose Therapy Fund will be at the TDOR event offering services from their Free Letter Writing Project, which offers financial support for Black queer and/or trans people who need to obtain a letter to access gender-affirming health care. A therapist will be there to hold space for people who need help processing loss, and other community organizations will be there with tables and resources. 

For King, TDOR feels a bit different this year because he was in a car accident several months ago, and is thankful that he is still here to be in community. As someone who experienced homelessness as a child, King makes an effort to help people who are going through similar hardships. He criticized the ongoing issues of housing and food insecurity that still plague many communities. 

“Every human being needs a place to stay,” King said. “Every human being should eat every day; every human being should have medical coverage if needed.” 

He added that the basic needs of a person should be put before their gender or sexual orientation. 

“They just put this whole spotlight on the trans community, like we’re just animals or we don’t deserve to breathe,” King added. “Yes we do deserve to breathe, and I want them to stop killing us. We deserve to breathe just like everybody else. I’m trans, two-spirit. I want everybody to be OK. I just wish people would feel that way about us.” 

Tatyana Woodard, who co-founded Ark of Safety Safe Haven (AOS), will be at the William Way event with AOS residents. AOS is a temporary housing organization for members of the LGBTQ+ community, and prioritizes trans women of color. 

“For me personally, the last couple of [TDORs] have definitely felt different,” Woodard said. “[There’s] a glimmer of hope attached to this year’s TDOR.”

Woodard referenced the recent executive order, introduced by the Office of LGBT Affairs and signed by Mayor Kenney, that protects gender-affirming care in Philadelphia. “It’s just a glimpse of hope I have attached this year, for trans equality,” Woodard said.  

“I think it’s important that we never forget the lives that are lost, that we never stop saying their names,” she added. The team at AOS dedicated and named some of its rooms after trans individuals who have lost their lives to violence.   

For AOS resident Siren McCloud, TDOR is “a very sullen day,” she said. “For me, it means that we’re honoring those who have paved the way to make a better life for us — those who have lived their life going through this community, making changes to make us very visible to people. I feel like we’re not appreciated enough; we are not given our flowers.”

McCloud referenced the new Gayborhood mural, “Finally on 13th,” which honors queer Philly ballroom icons of color. 

“With the unveiling of the mural, I feel like each year gets better [in terms of] visibility,” she said. “Each year brings a different way of recognizing the trans community. The events around it get bigger and bigger.”

In the lead-up to TDOR, the QTBIPOC organization galaei is hosting several events, including a monthly resource happy hour at Sammy’s Place in Kensington on Nov. 17 from 5:30-7:30 p.m. Music, dancing and drinks can be expected, as well as COVID tests, Lush products, at-home HIV test kits, one-to-one services and complimentary food. The event is 21 and over.

To perpetuate the spirit of giving, galaei will host its yearly turkey box giveaway on Nov. 20 from 3:30-5:30 p.m. Those in need must reach out to galaei to register before picking up a box at 118 Fontain Street. Each box contains a turkey, sides, dressing and other types of food. QTBIPOC Philly residents will be prioritized. For more info, contact [email protected]

On Nov. 19, for TDOR, Philly Trans March (PTM) is holding a teach-in at Vox Populi. In lieu of continuing to advocate for harm reduction generally, PTM is collaborating with the grassroots org Queers for Palestinian Liberation Philly to educate the public about the queer and trans Palestinians who are losing their lives in the Israel-Hamas war.

“We couldn’t just ignore the fact that this conflict is affecting everyone,” said PTM organizer Bri Golphin. “We have to acknowledge that yes, we lost trans lives in the U.S., but there are trans lives being taken because of this war overseas. Not to mention that all of this is in relation to health, healing and harm reduction.”

The purpose of the teach-in is to eradicate the false narrative that Palestinians are homophobic and transphobic, and to convey that LGBTQ+ Palestinians exist. 

“I think that that needs to be addressed and also highlighted,” Golphin said. 

TDOR this year has taken on a different feel for Golphin, “because when we think of TDOR, we only center trans lives that are lost within this country,” they said. “I can’t speak for everyone because there’s thousands of us, but I will say at least within the immediate circle of folks that we have access to, folks are really taking into consideration how Trans Day of Remembrance expands abroad, worldwide even.”