transgender day of remembrance charlotte
Charlotte’s transgender memorial began Sunday night with candles placed in a heart shape. Ann Doss Helms

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — About 50 people gathered by candlelight outside the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Government Center on Sunday to join with people around the country in remembering transgender victims of violence.

“I encourage everyone to use this as a day of strength and a day to show the world that you’re still here and you’re not going to go anywhere,” said transgender performer and activist Lara Americo.

The gathering was part of the national Transgender Day of Remembrance, in which people read the names of people lost to violence and take part in activities to raise awareness of the challenges transgender people face. In Charlotte, transgender people talked about the fear and the joy that comes with dressing the way they feel and choosing the names and pronouns they’ll use.

“It’s so important that we should be open with who we are,” Americo said. “It’s not something we should hide.”

The memorial came at a time of increased awareness and controversy about transgender people. A Charlotte City Council ordinance, North Carolina’s House Bill 2 and new Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools anti-bullying regulations have sparked fierce debate over LGBT rights, and especially where transgender people should be allowed to use the restroom and change clothes.

In October, the Observer reported on how the HB2 controversy has not only fueled public policy debate but increased hate speech and violence against LGBT people.

Some speakers Sunday offered support.

“The beauty of our trans community, it’s like this brilliant light under a bushel. There are those of us fortunate enough to get peeks at it, and then there are those who want to keep blowing the light out,” said Bishop Tonyia Rawls, founder of Charlotte’s Freedom Center for Social Justice.

Added Mecklenburg County Commissioner Pat Cotham: “I hope that you feel the support that you have in the community. You’re certainly safe with me, and you’re safe with a lot of people.”

Ann Doss Helms: 704-358-5033, @anndosshelms

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