This post was written by Janelle Wilson, the Coordinator of the Queer Resource Center of Southern Oregon University and a new member of the Oregon Leadership Action Team.
As I reflected on the final months of 2014, I was reminded of the many victories our LGBTQ community championed this year. Nearly every week in 2014 contained news of discriminatory laws being repealed or deemed unconstitutional as new legislation was introduced that brought our country closer to “liberty and justice for all.” What an amazing year for change!
While I celebrate our achievements, I am painfully aware of the incredible amount of injustice, hate, and brutality that faces our community. In November, members of our Southern Oregon community gathered for the 16th Annual Transgender Day of Remembrance—a day to honor the memory of lives lost to anti-transgender violence. In the words of Transgender Day of Remembrance founder Gwendolyn Ann Smith:
Transgender Day of Remembrance seeks to highlight the losses we face due to anti-transgender bigotry and violence. 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.
Southern Oregon University’s (SOU) Transgender Day of Remembrance was organized by two wonderful Queer Resource Center staff members, Brod McLaughlin and Nolen Guerrero. On the days leading up to November 20th and the weeks following, I felt a deep sense of melancholy as I reflected on the hundreds of lives that ended by unfathomable acts of brutality, hatred, and ignorance.
My heart felt heavy as I walked to the location for our vigil. The crisp autumn air on the evening of November 20th complemented the candles that Brod and Nolen handed out to over 70 campus and community members. Everyone gathered in circles around each other. Many eyes focused on the flame in front of them; other people focused their gaze on others’ faces, connecting with each other for this one night where we remember the thousands of lives lost to anti-transgender violence each year. As I looked around at the growing crowd I felt incredibly connected to our beautiful community that came together to remember loved ones and strangers.
Two of SOU’s finest professors spoke during the event. Dr. Kylan de Vries opened the evening, providing a grounded space for us to mourn in community. After Dr. de Vries offered his powerful reflections on the purpose for our gathering, we opened the space up to all of those in attendance to offer their own thoughts and feelings. Names of friends and family members were spoken and given the space for remembering.
Next Carey Jean Sojka provided additional context and the reality of what our transgender community faces every single day. Carey, in an impassioned speech, spoke of the staggering number of transgender women of color who are killed every year. She continued to speak of how our justice system fails our community when they refuse to investigate or prosecute the perpetrators of transmisogynist violence. By the end of our (relatively) short vigil, hearts were open and tears were shed.
Carey left us to reflect on the ways in which identities intersect. For example, I never forget that I have privileges that are awarded to me on a daily basis because I was born white in this country. As a queer person, I face oppression just because of my sexuality—with the United States devaluing all sexualities that are not heterosexual. When I go beyond my identities and work as an ally against the various oppression experienced by our queer community, I am truly working for justice.
Four days after Transgender Day of Remembrance was the day that the Ferguson decision came down. When a grand jury decided not to indict white Ferguson, MO police Officer Darren Wilson in the August shooting death of Michael Brown, an 18-year-old African American man, we saw racism again at its best. Our country has been steeped in the “ideals” of white supremacy since its beginning. White privilege affords white people innumerable privileges because of their skin color, while everyone else is saddled with innumerable oppression. This decision provided an excellent example of how institutional racism in the United States affects us. On November 24th I felt sadness, disappointment, and anger.
The intersection of racism combined with excessive force used by police officers creates an injustice that I have a hard time finding the words to describe. I am perplexed by the imbalance inherent in those seeking justice, the people who write laws, the laws themselves, and those who are in positions to maintain those laws. The injustices that I felt on November 20th and 24th were institutionally sanctioned and individually manifested. We have to work to change the institutions. We have to work in our spheres of influence and across those borders to do critical justice work in our communities.
As we begin the New Year—with allies across the nation raising their voices to ensure justice—this action must continue in our every day work.
Every single day we must seek out the ways in which we will lend our voices and actions to create positive, impactful change for those who are subjugated and treated as less than. We must create coalitions that purposefully seek to create justice, equity, and true community.
Pride Foundation, at their very core, does just these things. Through their activism, philanthropy, outreach, and commitment to creating equality for the LGBTQ community, the foundation is changing communities and individual lives. One of the reasons I am so grateful to be part of the Leadership Action Team is that I know that Pride Foundation works tirelessly to support work being done across our five states to end such violent acts against our LGBTQ family members.
Every day, people engaged in the work that Pride Foundation values are taking action against oppressions that our community faces. I will be part of the change necessary to create true equity in all of our communities. I will work to ensure that our elders will be well-supported and treated with dignity and respect. I will work to bring light to sizeist, ableist, racist, sexist, heterocissexist discrimination faced by my community members. I will work as an ally to create positive change whenever and however I am able.
Today is another day working toward revolutionary change. Today I will pressure our President, the Attorney General, and the U.S. Department of Justice to secure justice for Mike Brown and his family. Today I will continue to work in alliance with all members of our community so that we will all, one day, be free from senseless acts of violence, racism, sexism, and all other structures of oppression.
What action will you take today to create change?