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Transmissions: A Lot of Our Friends Are Being Killed

by Gwendolyn Ann Smith
Sunday Nov 18, 2012

At a visit to an Obama campaign field office in Sarasota, Florida last month, Vice President Joe Biden singled out a woman who, it was reported, he thought had beautiful eyes. That woman is Linda Carragher Bourne.

A pool reporter at the event did not catch what Bourne said to Biden, but we do know that Biden replied to her, saying that it was "the civil rights issue of our time." Bourne made it clear afterward that what she asked of Biden was help for her daughter and others like her.

Her daughter is Lorelei Erisis - Miss Trans Northampton/New England 2009.

"A lot of my friends are being killed, and they don't have the civil rights yet," said Bourne. "These guys are gonna make that happen."

The story flew largely under the political radar, buried under news of Hurricane Sandy. For me, of course, this was a very big thing. This was the sitting vice president of the United States, in the midst of a heated political campaign, who publicly pointed out the need to tackle transgender discrimination.

Now, Vice President Biden is re-elected.

Just two short weeks after the election is the 14th annual Transgender Day of Remembrance. I founded the event way back then to help create a sense of history within the transgender community, and as a way to point out just how prevalent anti-transgender violence is in our world.

At our first event, we had about 30 known cases. Today we know of thousands. This year, while we have 38 listed on the Transgender Day of Remembrance website - - we know there are far more anti-transgender murders that we will never know of, or never have a full picture of.

To paraphrase Bourne, a lot of our friends are being killed.

These deaths are happening all around the world, to people of all ages, all races, all genders. Not everyone killed in an anti-transgender violent crime is transgender identified, either: all it really takes is someone perceiving you to be transgender. Say they think you're a male who is effeminate, or a woman who isn't. Perhaps you are a young child who's considered not to conform to the gender expectations of a caregiver, or a straight man who happened to be holding his wife's purse at just the wrong time.

Yet when I talk about these murders, understand they are not something abstract, happening in the far-flung reaches of the world. These are cases like that of Brandy Martell, who was killed in Oakland in April. Or 19-year-old Tiffany Gooden of Chicago, who was stabbed to death in August, or Deoni Jones, who was shot to death in Baltimore in February.

These are our friends who are being killed.

Now I suspect that many would call Biden's comments to task. Not just those who may be transphobic, but I suspect many would point to the larger community, and the continued emphasis on same-sex marriage. One can also point to continuing issues over race, religion, and socioeconomic matters as also being civil rights battles of our time. One could even point to women's rights in the wake of an election cycle that brought us the phrases "legitimate rape" and "binders full of women." I'm not saying that these are not important, even vital, as we look at basic human rights. Yet when I consider that one of the third-party presidential candidates took issue with transgender people even having the right to public accommodation, the fact that transgender people still face health care restrictions, and the reality that we're still held up for public mockery and scorn, and yes, we are still murdered at a rate greater than one every two weeks, I would contend that Biden has a very valid point.

In the last four years, we have seen this administration take great steps as passport rules and immigration policies were eased for transgender people. We saw the Department of Health and Human Services, the Department of Housing and Urban Development, and other agencies speak out on behalf of transgender people. Title VII protections have been defined as transgender-inclusive. The administration has even appointed three transgender people.

Over the next four years, in between battles over the economy, over possible Supreme Court nominations, and over everything else that will cross the president's desk, I hope we will see transgender rights given more attention. I hope to see more work done to help transgender people, including seeing a transgender-inclusive Employment Non-Discrimination Act signed by President Barack Obama in the next four years. I want to see - and will see - transgender people served under the Affordable Care Act.

And yes, I want to see more done by the Department of Justice and other federal agencies to bring attention to and strengthen laws against anti-transgender violence. I would love to see our own government putting as much attention to these anti-transgender violent crimes as we do.

I would love to see the Transgender Day of Remembrance - which was honored by the Department of Justice for the very first time last year - continue to be federally recognized. I would even go so far as to say that I'd like to see Obama proclaim November 20 as the national Transgender Day of Remembrance.

What is really important, though, is that transgender civil rights be secured. A lot of our friends are being killed, and the most important right is simply the right to live. Let's make that happen.

Gwen Smith encourages you to go to a local Transgender Day of Remembrance event, a listing of which can be found in the News Briefs. You can find Smith online at

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