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West Hollywood honors the dead on Transgender Day of Remembrance

November 21, 2013|By Hailey Branson-Potts
  • During the Transgender Day of Remembrance, people line up to remember transgenders who have been beaten and killed in hate crimes.
During the Transgender Day of Remembrance, people line up to remember transgenders… (Liz O. Baylen / Los Angeles…)

As the names of this year’s dead were recited -- a transgender woman shot in the head in Louisiana, a transgender man whose body was found in a trash bin in Wisconsin -- Jennifer Doyle kept her eyes down and her head on her girlfriend’s shoulder.

It was her greatest fear, she said, that someone would hurt Trisha Pedroza, her girlfriend of two years, because she is a transgender woman.

It was a sadness and fear echoed throughout the crowd of several hundred people that gathered in West Hollywood on Wednesday night, the annual Transgender Day of Remembrance, to pay tribute to transgender people around the world killed in hate crimes.

“If I ever have to go up there and read her name, I’ll just die,” Doyle said. “It would be devastating.”

The Transgender Day of Remembrance, now a worldwide observance, began as a vigil recognizing people killed in violent acts following the 1998 slaying of Rita Hester, an activist in her native Boston, according to the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation. Hester was stabbed 20 times in her apartment, according to GLAAD.

The Trans Murder Monitoring project by Transgender Europe shows that from January 2008 to April 2013, more than 1,200 transgender people have been reported murdered in 59 countries, with many more going unreported.

Before Wednesday night’s ceremony, Desiree Jade Sol, a transgender activist and member of the West Hollywood Public Safety Commission, hugged friends and law enforcement officers. She has been to numerous Day of Remembrance ceremonies, and she said she always leaves grateful that she lives in a community that accepts her because she knows so many people don’t.

“Transphobia and hatred -- I don’t think they’re isolated events at all,” she said.

Before a large flame projected on a screen, a voice sang, "Lord knows we need some closure, some closure here tonight."

Volunteers clutching red and white roses came up on stage to read dozens of names and the often graphic details of how they died. Members of the audience held pink and blue glow sticks, the colors of the transgender flag.

Leticia Alvarado wore a red paper heart on her chest with the photo of her best friend, Melony Smith -- and listened intently as her name and the details of her death were read.

Smith was 26 years old when she was found in September, beaten to death in the Baldwin Park motel room where she lived.

In a tearful speech in Spanish, Alvarado said transgender people are mothers, fathers, sisters and brothers. She described Smith as a beautiful and genuine person. At Smith’s funeral, Alvarado said they often had breakfast together and called each other sisters.

Edward Jaye Johnson, a member of the West Hollywood Transgender Advisory Board, said he hoped that one day the Transgender Day of Remembrance would be a day of celebration, “not a day of mourning the deaths of trans people committed to living their lives powerfully.”

“As you get up tomorrow morning,” he said, “there is some transgender person on the planet who has to decide if it is safe enough to be who they are.”


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