CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Nearly four dozen community members gathered on Saturday, Nov. 17 to mark a special remembrance of transgender people lost this year to violence and hate. Charlotte’s annual Transgender Day of Remembrance ceremony and vigil was held at the LGBT Community Center of Charlotte at the NC Music Factory. The annual service is a part of the national Transgender Day of Remembrance movement, traditionally recognized on Nov. 20.
Local transgender advocate Roberta Dunn, vice chair of the LGBT Center, opened the service.
“This is the fifth time we have held this Transgender Day of Remembrance at the community center and my prayers are always that we never have one the following year,” Dunn stated in her opening remarks. “So far it seems impossible. There is just more hate out there than there was just two years ago.”
That hate was physically visible on Saturday as anti-LGBT protesters came to make their presence known outside the center. A lone truck sat covered with signs condemning the community, though no one approached the building or spoke out during the outdoor vigil. T
Ceremony organizers said there had been 38 reported deaths of transgender individuals this year across the United States. These deaths were the result of violent hate crimes targeted at the transgender community. This number has increased from 2011’s service which honored the lives of 21 people. Dunn believes that the 70 percent rise in reported deaths is both a combination of the transgender community’s increased visibility as well as improved reporting and documenting of hate crimes against the transgender community.
“The Transgender Day of Remembrance is more then a memorial service for our murdered sisters and brothers” Dunn said. “TDOR raises public awareness of hate crimes against transgender people, something the mainstream media doesn’t provide.”
The program included words from Donielle Prophete, the sister of Toni Alston, a transgender Charlottean who was murdered in April 2010. The investigation surrounding Alston’s murder was never solved, though the case did prompt a discussion on Charlotte police’s relationship with the LGBT community. Prophete said her sister’s murder is now considered a cold case.
Prophete believes that it is important for her to continue speaking out about the loss of Alston and to be a part of services like Transgender Day of Remembrance.
“I just need to keep fighting for Toni’s cause. I feel that I need to speak for Toni because I know that if it was me that Toni would speak for me,” said Prophete. “I grew up with Toni and I always wanted Toni to be treated right. I just want to make sure that people understand that any gay, lesbian or transgender person deserves to be treated fair. I just want everyone to be safe.”
Three local elected officials attended the remembrance event, the largest number of elected officials to ever attend in the event’s five-year history. The city’s first and only openly LGBT elected official, Charlotte City Councilmember LaWana Mayfield (Dist. 3) was present, as were Councilmembers Patsy Kinsey (Dist. 1) and Beth Pickering (At-large).
Mayfield spoke during the service, challenging the community to hold their representatives accountable when dealing with issues of hate.
“As an elected official, I need the community to know that you need to hold us accountable and know that you really do have a voice. It is unacceptable for us to have unsolved murders for those that are transgender,” said Mayfield. “We want a safe community and our entire community is not safe if a person is not able to live their life and be who they are. As long as there are people out there that have that much hatred against another person just for them living their lives and being who they are, then we have to continue to show as much love as possible to counter that hate.”
Following the program, community members stood outside for a candlelight vigil. as the names of the 38 victims were read aloud, a chime was rang. A moment of silence and prayer concluded the service. Afterwards community members joined in fellowship. A cake marked with the names of all 38 victims was served.
Other communities across North Carolina are also honoring Transgender Day of Remembrance this month. The Raleigh community will hold several events on November 20 including a flash mob event during the day, a candlelight vigil and a memorial reception in the evening. Information for the Raleigh Transgender Day of Remembrance events can be found on the LGBT Center of Raleigh’s website at lgbtcenterofraleigh.com. Events will also be held in Greensboro, Asheville and Boone. Details about these events can be found on Equality NC’s website at equalitync.org.