This past week has exhausted the last of my energy reserves, both physically and emotionally, because of the work I’ve been doing. For those of you that don’t know, Sunday was Transgender Day of Remembrance, an international day of memorial for those who have been bullied, harassed, abused and killed because of bias against gender non-conforming people.
It’s hard for me to fathom the kind of hatred and revulsion that would lead a person to attack another for the way that they express themselves, for they way they dress or how their body and brain’s conception of gender do not match. And yet it happens EVERY DAY. The statistics regarding harassment of trans and gender non-conforming people are staggering. 78% are harassed during their K-12 years at school. 15% leave school because of this harassment. 41% attempt suicide at least once during their lives. These are completely unacceptable.
And it’s pretty easy to get outraged, but then have nowhere to go from there. It’s pretty easy to think of everyone that’s died and then go on eating your TV dinner, because really, what can you do?
So that’s what my week was about. On Monday, two of our AU professors spoke about trans bullying and the way that we can erect safe spaces on our campus for people to go to if they feel they are being harassed. The group that heard their message was small (about 20 people), but their message is good. If those 20 people each tell one of their friends, and each of those 20 people tell one more, we’ve begun to spread the message outside of just our community of allies, and into the core of the “apathetic majority,” the ones that are often hurting trans and gender non-conforming people unintentionally, with their assumptions about gender, their lack of information and education, and occasionally, with their cruel words. I truly believe that most of the people on AU’s campus (and in the world at large) do not harbor purposefully hateful feelings in their hearts. They hurt others because they don’t understand, and the only way to fix that is to start reaching out.
On Thursday, we were out on the quad with signs, with petitions, and with our voices, confronting students with the unacceptable statistics associated with injustice against trans people. We petitioned for an LGBT minor on campus. We gave out pamphlets explaining the difference between sex and gender and explaining what trans issues are all about. We got the bookstore to donate a TON of overstock to sell at a $5 or less garage sale to raise money for the Aiden Rivera Schaeff fund, a scholarship established by Dean Schaeff of AU’s college of Arts and Sciences to commemorate her son, Aiden, who came out as trans in high school and committed suicide shortly before turning 18 because of the bullying he endured. Once the scholarship is endowed, it will go on to fund anti-bullying initiatives and to help any at-risk LGBT student with financial hardships.
In the evening, a huge portion of the school came together for an A Capella Concert in honor of Dean Schaeff, Aiden, and their scholarship fund. All four A Capella groups from AU performed, and I’d like to think that we reached more than just allies at that event. There were so many people there who might have never heard Dean Schaeff’s story otherwise, and never donated, never even cared about trans issues. The courage, strength and composure with which Dean Schaeff told the story of her son’s life made me so proud to be a part of the trans equality movement, and I can only imagine how others were moved. The music was beautiful, the atmosphere was light, and the change was tangible.
The last, the most difficult, the most important of our events was the Sunday Vigil for the victims of trans hate crimes. Together, a small group of us lit 221 candles, read 221 names, and remembered 221 victims from this past year alone who have suffered the inequity of a murder due to transphobia. The prayers and songs were moving, and they brought, for me especially, an incredibly amount of sorrow for the problems facing trans and gender non-conforming people. These things sometimes seem insurmountable, and it is incredibly difficult to bear witness to so many needless deaths. I was lucky enough to have an amazing, supportive group of friends through Student Government and Queers and Allies that were there with me, giving testimony, giving me strength, sharing their own love and support when I felt like I had no ground left to stand on.
There are so many difficult things about Transgender Day of Remembrance. How do we remember those who have died without collapsing into our own sorrow? How do we remain hopeful and positive without trivializing the deaths of those who have brought us together? How do we move on without forgetting? I don’t think anyone has the answers to these questions, but we keep fighting, we keep remembering, we keep education until we figure it out. For those of you who showed your support this week in any way- from a facebook status to a face at the vigil to a donation at an event- Thank You. And for those of you who didn’t know, who forgot, who didn’t have time, who didn’t feel that they could, I hope that you add your voice to ours next year and everyday with your words and actions.