Transgender Day of Remembrance events to be held on Washington University campus

Student-led programs feature activists at the forefront of transgender equality

I am no stranger to the need to fight for our rights, and the right to simply exist is first and foremost. With so many seeking to erase transgender people — sometimes in the most brutal ways possible — it is vitally important that those we lose are remembered, and that we continue to fight for justice.

With this statement, Gwendolyn Ann Smith founded the first Transgender Day of Remembrance in the United States in memory of Rita Hester, a transgender woman murdered in Allston, Mass., on Nov. 28, 1998.

While Nov. 20 is the official day of remembrance, two events will be held on the Washington University in St. Louis campus, organized by student groups dedicated to creating an inclusive environment for the LGBTQIA community and to mark Trans* Awareness Week (TAW). (Editor’s note: Trans* is an umbrella term that refers to all of the identities within the gender-identity spectrum. For more information, visit here.)

The events will shine a light on the societal obstacles and legal barriers that generate and perpetuate hate-based violence and systemic oppression.

Thursday, Nov. 12

Panel discussion, “Out of the Margins, Into the Streets: Carving Space for Trans* Women of Color,” 6:30 p.m., Graham Chapel

Pride Alliance, Student Union, People Like Us and the Washington University Assembly Series will present a panel discussion featuring four prominent activists who will share their experiences and offer insight on the progress being made in the long march toward challenging systems of oppression.

The panelists are:

Miss Major Griffin-Gracy, an African-American activist who has been fighting for the rights of trans* women of color for nearly a half-century. The veteran leader of the Stonewall Rebellion (1969) currently serves as executive director of the San Francisco-based Transgender GenderVariant Intersex Justice Project (TGIJP), which advocates for trans* women of color in and outside of prison.

CeCe McDonald. In 2011, McDonald was out with friends in Minneapolis when they were accosted by a group shouting racist and transphobic epithets at them. After being struck in the face with a glass, McDonald tried to get away, but one man followed her. In self-defense, she stabbed the man, who died from the wound. Believing her case to be prejudiced, McDonald took the plea bargain and was sentenced to 41 months in prison on second-degree murder charges. McDonald spent 19 month’s in a men’s prison. Her resilience in the face of tragedy and injustice has served as an inspiration, including the trans* actress Laverne Cox, who based her character on “Orange Is the New Black” on McDonald.

Ka’milla Renee McMiller. The death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., in August 2014 spawned the Black Lives Matter movement, an initiative that McMiller not only embraced but also expanded to include the trans* community. Her activism also focuses on LGBT youth and their need for safe and supportive school environments.

Bamby Salcedo. Salcedo’s wide-ranging activism has brought voice to not only the trans* community, but also to the communities and issues that have touched her life, such as migration, HIV, youth, incarceration and Latina communities. In 2009, Salcedo founded the Trans Latin@ Coalition.

The lead sponsor, Pride Alliance, is a multifocus LGBTQIA organization open to all Washington University students regardless of sexual orientation, gender identity and/or gender expression. For more information on TAW events, visit here.

Monday, Nov. 16

Lecture, “The Changing Landscape of Transgender Law: Perspectives from a Transgender Trailblazer Judge.” Phyllis Frye, noon, Anheuser-Busch Hall, Bryan Cave Moot Courtroom

To those without the benefit of historical context, it must seem as though today’s environment for transitioning to a different gender identity still presents challenges but is quickly gaining acceptance. But when Phillip Frye was in his late 20s, nearly four decades ago, his decision to live authentically as a woman was made in an era when it was open season on ‘sexual deviates’ as they were then called — people who had the courage to remain true to themselves.

The 1970s was a terrible time for Phyllis Frye: he was disowned by his parents, forced to resign from the military, divorced by his first wife, separated from his son, and blackballed in the engineering profession.

Today, Phyllis Frye is happily married and enjoys her profession as an associate municipal judge in Houston, an appointment that marks a milestone in transgender rights. But she didn’t pay much attention to the recent high-profile introduction of Caitlyn Jenner. As she said at the time, “It’s old hat to me.”

Frye’s talk is sponsored by OUTLaw, the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender organization for students, faculty, staff, alumni and allies in the university’s School of Law, and the school’s Public Interest Law & Policy Speakers Series. In her talk, Frye will discuss the changing landscape of transgender law and how Jenner’s emergence as a media celebrity (with increasing legal protections) did not happen overnight.

Deborah Sontag wrote in a recent article in The New York Times: “(Transgender awareness) evolved over the last quarter-century as Ms. Frye and others built a transgender civil rights movement, fighting dexterously to rebrand a highly marginalized group; demand, and increasingly win, equal protection under the law; and put the T in LGBT.”

Both events are free and open to the public.

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