Community remembers trans deaths worldwide

Victims' names being read at a Trans Day of Remembrance vigil in Las Vegas Monday. Photo: Michael Lyle

Celine Walker, 36. Date of death, Feb. 4, 2018. 

Tonya Harding, 35. Date of death, Feb. 6, 2018.

Phylicia Mitchell, 45. Date of death, Feb. 25, 2018.

Some fought back tears while others openly wept as all 369 names of transgender people who have been killed in the last year were read — 22 in the United States in 2018, and the majority of those were women of color.

“Each of those names, in their death they were dishonored,” said Jamie Lee Sprague-Ballou. “We bring honor to them when we speak their names and recognize them for who they are and how they stood boldly and authentically for who they were.”

Las Vegas Trans Pride hosted the vigil Monday night while the Trans Pride Foundation hosted another vigil Tuesday evening. “This is the worst year on record,” said Blue Montana, the founder of the Trans Pride Foundation. 

Though both organizations honored the known names of those who were killed, they also acknowledge those who are unknown, whether it’s because they weren’t openly transgender or were misgendered.  

At Tuesday’s vigil, Montana set out a single table, chair and plate — each symbolized a part of the trans experience. “The table is round to show our ever-lasting concern to make a difference for those in need,” Montana explained. “It’s set for one to symbolize the frailty of life and the loneliness we sometimes feel. The single yellow rose symbolizes hope for the future. The single slice of lemon and dash of salt reminds us of the bitter taste of discrimination. The chair is empty for those not here with us tonight.”

Both events comes about a week after the FBI released its data on hate crimes, which had increased for the third consecutive year. The report found an overall 17 percent increase in reported hate crimes. 

“It’s no accident things have gone up considering who we have in the White House,” state Sen. Pat Spearman told the audience Monday night.

In his first two years in office, the Trump Administration has repeatedly targeted the LGBTQ community, including most recently considering new language to define gender. Via Twitter last summer, Trump even proposed to change policies to prevent trans people from serving in the military.

These proposals have garnered rebuke across the country as support for trans rights has slowly increased.

Trans Day of Remembrance began about 20 years ago when Rita Hester was killed in San Francisco. “She wasn’t getting the justice that she needed in her death, so a group of people stood up and took to the streets to recognize the injustice,” Sprague-Ballou said.  

The first day of remembrance took place in Las Vegas in 2006. There hasn’t been a reported trans murder in Las Vegas.

For some in the audience, the names weren’t strangers. Christie Butterfield says she was friends with Christa Leigh Steele-Knudslien, who was murdered Jan. 5 in Massachusetts and was the first reported death in the United States in 2018.

“I met her in 2011 when I came out and became blood sisters,” Butterfield said paying tribute. “She was a real inspiration to me and showed me how to be the real me.”

While Spearman was the only elected official to attend the Monday event, others have acknowledge the day.

Governor-elect Steve Sisolak tweeted out: “On #TransDayofRememberance, we honor & remember those who lost their lives to transphobic violence. Everyone deserves to be safe, loved, & respected. Today, we recognize that while we’ve made progress, there is still more work to be done to create a community that accepts all.”

Though Trans Day of Remembrance focused on those who died violently, Sprague-Ballou said another group should also be remembered. “One thing we don’t have on the wall is suicides” she said. “Suicide is also a big thing in the LGBTQ Community. The victims on this wall are from hate crimes, but we need to recognize those who do commit suicide. A lot of times it’s because of hatred that forces them over the edge.”

As Tuesday’s vigil, Montana added some names of those in the trans community who have committed suicide. “Here in Vegas, we lost three of our own,” Montana said.

Michael Lyle
Michael Lyle (MJ to some) has been a journalist in Las Vegas for eight years.  He started his career at View Neighborhood News, the community edition of the Las Vegas Review-Journal. During his seven years with the R-J, he won several first place awards from the Nevada Press Association and was named its 2011 Journalist of Merit. He left the paper in 2017 and spent a year as a freelance journalist accumulating bylines anywhere from The Washington Post to Desert Companion. While he covers a range of topics from homelessness to the criminal justice system, he gravitates toward stories about race relations and LGBTQ issues. Born and mostly raised in Las Vegas, Lyle graduated from UNLV with a degree in Journalism and Media Studies. He is currently working on his master's in Communications through an online program at Syracuse University. In his spare time, Lyle cooks through Ina Garten recipes in hopes of one day becoming the successor to the Barefoot Contessa throne. When he isn’t cooking (or eating), he also enjoys reading, running and re-watching episodes of “Parks and Recreation.” He is also in the process of learning kickboxing.

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