(Jeremy C. Fox for boston.com)
Members of the transgender community believe they have made great progress in increasing public awareness and acceptance, but still far too many face prejudice, violence, even murder.
That’s the message delivered by the speakers Saturday at the 12th Annual Transgender Day of Remembrance, an event that filled the Cathedral Church of St. Paul for 90 minutes of personal testimonies before moving into Boston Common for a march and a candlelight vigil.
It drew transgender people, their friends and families, and allies from throughout the region.
Mesma Belsare, the mistress of ceremonies, said the annual event began in 1998 after Rita Hester, a transgender woman, was murdered in Allston.
“We are here to honor not only Rita, but also all the other individuals who have since been victimized because of widespread prejudice, hatred, insecurities, through no fault of theirs,” Belsare said. “We are here to honor people whose stories may go unheard.”
For many of those present at the Trement Street church, those stories were very personal.
Elizabeth Marie Rivera-Valentine, a community organizer for the HIV prevention project TransCEND, spoke of her friend Amanda Gonzalez-Andujar, who was strangled to death earlier this year.
“I met her when I was homeless and unemployed and very young,” Rivera-Valentine said through tears. “When I found out about her murder on March 27, in Glendale, Queens, N.Y., I was not only saddened by her death but also angered by the lack of respect she was shown by the media and by the police after her death became public knowledge. It was heart-wrenching to read about the circumstances of her death in the newspapers.”
Rivera-Valentine said the killings of Gonzalez-Andujar and other transgender women made her fear for her own safety.
“I don’t know about you,” she said to the crowd, “but I’m fully aware that this could happen to me at any given time, in any given place, for any given reason, but mainly because of my gender identity and expression of my sexual orientation.”
But amidst the memorials were also expressions of hope and of appreciation from those who said they had endured prejudice and self-doubt but found a community and a way to go on.
Conor Lipchus, a 20-year-old transgender man from the Boston Alliance of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Youth, said friends took him in after he was rejected by his family.
“My parents kicked me out when I said, ‘Well, I’m sorry, I’m 18 and I want to do hormones, and I’m going to do it whether you like it or not.’ And they said, ‘Well, that’s great. There’s the door,’ ” he said.
Lipchus said that while trying to understand his gender identity he had attempted to end his own life, like many others struggling with the issue.
“The number of people that I have heard of, and the number of people that I have known, that have either attempted suicide or succeeded is an atrocity,” he said.
But he had survived and found a network of people who supported him.
“So I would just like to give a quick thank-you to all the people who made it possible for me to be here right now, instead God knows where,” he said.
Email Jeremy C. Fox at email@example.com.
(Jeremy C. Fox for Boston.com)