On Transgender Day of Remembrance, Lawrence community honors lives lost to violence, bigotry

photo by: Shawn Valverde/Journal-World

Rachel Reed, right, and her wife, Dorothy Hoyt-Reed, attend the Transgender Day of Remembrance Monday, Nov. 20, 2023, at the ECM Building on Mount Oread.

A lot has changed in 70-year-old Rachel Reed’s lifetime, but one thing has remained disturbingly constant: violence against transgender people.

Even in a period of seeming progress for the LGBTQ+ community with the recognition of gay marriage and increasing visibility in the past few decades, dozens of transgender people are murdered every year in the U.S. — a number that Reed believes is vastly underreported because of the willful misgendering of the deceased.

photo by: Shawn Valverde/Journal-World

Julie Black-Opilo welcomes the audience at the Transgender Day of Remembrance Monday, Nov. 20, 2023, at the ECM Building on Mount Oread.

On Monday, Reed joined about 60 others “as a trans family” during the Transgender Day of Remembrance at the ECM Building on Mount Oread to honor the courage of the murder victims — many of whom, having been forsaken by relatives, had no other family to mourn them.

By the count of the Human Rights Campaign, the lives of at least 26 transgender and gender-nonconforming people have been taken in 2023 through violent means.

On Monday, attendees at the event, including Reed, somberly read the names of those victims and celebrated them with a moment of silence.

Those names included LaKendra Andrews, 26, who was fatally shot in Dallas in April; Chyna Long, 30, who was fatally shot in Milwaukee in October; DeVonnie J’Rae Johnson, 28, who was fatally shot in Los Angeles in August; and two dozen more — mostly young people subjected to similar violence.

Of the people listed, 88% were people of color, 54% were Black transgender women, and 73% were killed with a gun, according to the Human Rights Campaign; nearly half of the victims with a known killer were murdered by a romantic partner, friend or family member, and 50% were afterward misgendered or deadnamed by authorities.

To those statistics, Isaac Johnson, with the Trans Lawrence Coalition, added a brief rundown of anti-trans laws that have been passed in Kansas this year, including, most notoriously, SB 180, which bans transgender people from using bathrooms and other gender-specific facilities associated with their gender identities. Johnson’s group, formerly known as No SB 180, led the fight earlier this year to pass an ordinance making Lawrence a safe haven for trans people.

photo by: Shawn Valverde/Journal-World

Isaac Johnson, with Trans Lawrence Coalition, speaks at the Transgender Day of Remembrance Monday, Nov. 20, 2023, at the ECM Building on Mount Oread.

Johnson, a transgender man, told Monday’s crowd that while 13 anti-trans bills were introduced in Kansas, with a handful becoming law, including a law banning trans girls from participating in school sports, 586 anti-trans bills were introduced in the U.S., with 89 becoming law.

“There’s no evidence that legislation will improve,” Johnson warned of the year ahead, an observation shared by Reed.

In addition to sanctioning hostility toward the trans community, “they want to legislate us out of existence,” Reed told the Journal-World, singling out as especially menacing Attorney General Kris Kobach, who has led the push to keep transgender people from changing their gender markers on state documents such as birth certificates and driver’s licenses.

For Reed, who served 17 years in the U.S. Army before transitioning, the reality can seem especially bitter.

“VA records don’t say who I am,” said Reed, who is proud of having served her country. She urged people to honor the veterans among the trans community. “It’s something we don’t talk about,” she said, but we should.

Despite the grim outlook for imminent change, Monday’s gathering – sponsored by PFLAG, Trans Lawrence Coalition, Lawrence Pride, ECM, Rainbow Kids & Families, Plymouth Congregational and Equality Kansas — ended with a show of solidarity as participants shared a moment of silence and heard a nondenominational “prayer” led by the Rev. Caroline Dean for all the people “daring to be who they are.”

“May their deaths not be in vain,” she said.

photo by: Shawn Valverde/Journal-World

Sylvie Althoff performs at the Transgender Day of Remembrance Monday, Nov. 20, 2023, at the ECM Building on Mount Oread.


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