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Hundreds gather for SF TDOR observance

by David-Elijah Nahmod

It was standing room only in the Rainbow Room at the San Francisco LGBT Community Center Monday, November 20, as hundreds gathered to remember transgender individuals lost to violence in 2017.

According to a short video that was shown during the observance, 325 transgender people, mainly trans women of color, have been murdered worldwide this year, with 25 of the killings taking place in the U.S.

Outside of the Rainbow Room stood a Day of the Dead altar adorned with photos of murdered transgender people.

"We keep gathering because people keep dying," event organizer Clair Farley, the center's director of economic development, told the Bay Area Reporter. "We're going to gather until there are no more names to remember."

As the B.A.R. reported on its blog (and on page 1), Farley this week was named Mayor Ed Lee's senior adviser on transgender initiatives, replacing Theresa Sparks, a trans woman who is retiring. She starts her new job next month.

Transgender Day of Remembrance was founded in 1999 by Gwendolyn Ann Smith, a trans woman who writes the B.A.R.'s Transmissions column. Smith wanted to memorialize the murder of Rita Hester, who was killed November 28, 1998 in Allston, Massachusetts. TDOR is now a worldwide event.

Sister Roma of the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence emceed Monday's service at the LGBT center. She recalled a group of transwomen whom she befriended back in the 1990s.

"I was enamored by their glamorous lives," Roma said. "I loved listening to their stories and laughing. People speculated on how they made their money or what they had between their legs, and this made me angry. But they didn't need me to fight their battles for them."

Roma noted the continuing trend of killing transgender people. "Tonight is our night to come together and to call upon our allies to save trans lives," she said.

"It's the deadliest year on record," said keynote speaker Raquel Willis, who is a national organizer for the Oakland-based Transgender Law Center. "I'm tired, and I know many of you are."

Willis pointed out that many of the dead were black trans women or trans Latinas. "The killings do cross racial lines and include trans men," she said. "They are more than just numbers, they lived full lives. We owe it to those we lost and to the next generation to make it better. We've got to believe in trans power - trans power started the larger LGBTQ movement."

Jim Howley, a trans man who transitioned in 1999, called for the infighting in the community to stop.

"All this does is weaken us before the federal government," he said, as he recalled a recent incident in which he was attacked by the police on a beach in Alameda. "Police violence is real."

Mikaela Kendrick, a well-known cabaret performer, followed Howley with her moving rendition of the hymn "Amazing Grace."

Kendrick's performance was followed by a moment of silence.

Speakers Lisa Altman and Rexy Amaral also called for the dead to be remembered, for the violence to end, for transgender people to be treated with respect, and for cisgender allies to support the transgender community.

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