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November 24, 2006

Vigils honor transgender victims and celebrate survivors

Columbus--Events in two cities marked the observation of the Transgender Day of Remembrance, with a church vigil in the state capital and an awards presentation in Cleveland.

A crowd of over 60 people gathered in King Avenue United Methodist Church in Columbus to remember those who have fallen to transphobic violence. The eighth annual vigil, held November 15, also celebrated the lives of those who dare to live as they truly are, in the face of hatred, bigotry, discrimination and violence.

Cleveland�s event, which was designed to celebrate those who survive as much as remember those who have been victims, was held on November 19 at A Better Place restaurant, a gay-owned establishment that has been very active as a venue for non-profit events.

Around 30 people came out to hear organizer Jake Nash sing, and to honor attorney Randi Barnabee with a Community Advocate award, and her law partner and wife Deborah Smith with a Community Hero award.

The Transgender Day of Remembrance began after the murder of Rita Hester of Boston. Hester was stabbed in her apartment on November 27, 1998 and she died the following day. Like most anti-transgender murders, Hester�s remains unsolved.

Deniray Mueller, president of the Shepard Initiative in Columbus who also works with the Human Rights Campaign and Equality Ohio, spoke eloquently about how LGBT people are �unique and special.�

�We are the round pegs they keep trying to put in a square hole,� Mueller told the King Avenue gathering.

She spoke of the need to �work for acceptance� because since Hester�s death, �352 more transgendered children of God have been killed.�

Looking out at the audience in front of her filled with transgendered individuals and their GLB and straight allies, Mueller said, �This is what heaven looks like to me.�

The next speaker, Chris Cozad, president of the board of the Buckeye Region Anti-Violence Organization, spoke powerfully, and at times angrily, about the persistence of violence against queer citizens in general.

�I am sorry that we have to be here,� she said of a day that honors people who have been senselessly and heinously attacked and killed. �In this society there are two boxes: male and female,� Cozad said, �and we are all expected to fit into those boxes.�

�We have to change the system,� she urged.

Cozad ended her strong message by saying, �It is only in remembering that we can stop it happening in the future.�

Openly lesbian Columbus City Councilor Mary Jo Hudson was on hand to address the crowd. She spoke of the work done in Columbus by various organizations and individuals to stamp out intolerance and hatred.

Hudson presented a certificate on behalf of City Council to Cozad and Gloria McCauley, executive director of BRAVO, for their work in dealing with anti-gay violence in central Ohio.

McCauley began her address to the crowd saying that it was important to remember that this was not the �Cozad-McCauley show.� She honored all the people involved in this struggle, hoping for an end to the violence someday soon.

She commented that LGBT people needed to think of the Transgender Day of Remembrance as the Mexicans think of their Day of the Dead.

�The Mexican Day of the Dead is not necessarily a day of sadness but rather a day for individuals and communities to get together and celebrate lost ones.�

�Don�t let our history become invisible. Tell our stories,� she urged the crowd.

McCauley also decried the way in which law enforcement often deals with anti-LGBT crimes.

According to BRAVO, there were 202 such crimes reported� the group last year.

The Columbus police department reported only 12 and the FBI says that there were zero. McCauley said that this disparity between the reality of the crimes and those acknowledged and tackled by law enforcement has to change.

Meral Crane, founder of the Gender Dysphoria Program of Central Ohio, told the crowd to �Come out. Be yourselves. Be counted.�

Crane said that everyone needed to speak out when they witnessed anti-gay attitudes and actions. Her line �I will speak out. I am very obnoxious if I have to be� got loud applause from the crowd.

Crane also gave a sobering reminder to the crowd that transgendered people often face discrimination from gays and lesbians. She said that everyone had to unite to stamp out the phobia and violence.

The evening ended with a lighting of candles as individuals read the names of transgendered people who have been killed since that last Day of Remembrance. The list featured people from the U.S. and as far away as Israel, India, Italy and Kathmandu, Nepal.

The readers recited the names, date of death, and sometimes the manner in which these innocents were brutally felled. A final moment of silence in the dark with only the lit candles made for a poignant conclusion to a moving and heartfelt gathering.

Crane�s message was echoed in Cleveland by Nash, who sang the song �Measure of a Man� by the Christian rock band 4 Him.

�God knows and understands/For he looks inside to the bottom of your heart/And what's in the heart defines/The measure of a man,� Nash sang, after recounting how during his transition, he felt people�s judgments keenly. He worried about how other people viewed his sensitivity, before realizing that he should instead be thankful for it.

Also speaking at the Cleveland event were Mika Major, director of programs at the Cleveland LGBT Center, and Sue Doerfer, the center�s executive director.

The both stressed the center�s intent and commitment to doing everything possible to work with transgender people.

�Transgender isn�t part of our community,� Doerfer said, �it is our community.�

She told the crowd that every time someone looks and her and yells �dyke� or shouts at her from their car, they are doing so because she does not fulfill gender stereotypes, the same problem people have with those who are transgendered.

After Major and Doerfer spoke, Nash gave Barnabee and Smith their awards. The couple have been tireless in their fight for LGBT equality in courts throughout Ohio. Barnabee got the Sixth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati to agree with her argument that anti-transgender discrimination violated an earlier ruling barring discrimination based on sexual stereotyping.

Since Barnabee was born legally male, she and Smith were able to be married in Ohio. Their nuptials stymied Cincinnati anti-gay lawyer David Langdon, who opposes same-sex marriage but also believes that sex at birth should be sex for life, allowing the two to be legally married as a same-sex couple.


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