Activists say transgender people still face uphill battle in Asheville

Around 100 supporters and activists gather at Vance Monument Nov. 20 to remember transgender people murdered in the last year due to discrimination.

Activists who gathered Thursday night, Nov. 20, during the Transgender Day of Remembrance (TdoR) say there is ongoing danger toward transgender people living in Asheville, and it may not be an issue that is on people’s radar.

“There is danger for transgender people living in Asheville. I know of transgender women who have faced danger and discrimination, either verbally or physically,” said Basil Soper, founder of Just Us For All, an Asheville-based group that aims to educate people about the LGBTQ spectrum. Soper helped organize the event with Asheville LGBTQ groups Tranzmission and Campaign For Southern Equality.

The march and candlelight vigil to the Vance Monument was part of a day that memorializes those who have been killed as a result of transphobia, or the hatred or fear of transgender and gender nonconforming people. The vigil was capped by readings serving to remember worldwide victims of the past year.

Gwendolyn Ann Smith, a transgender graphic designer and activist, founded TDoR in 1998 to memorialize the murder of Rita Hester, a transgender African-American woman in Allston, Mass. Since its start, TDoR has been held annually on Nov. 20, and has slowly evolved into an international day of action.

Soper said a big step toward equal rights for transgender people is when cisgender people get involved in activism. (Cisgender is defined as people whose gender identities match those that were assigned to them at birth.)

“They need to not expect us to be the educators, and also not be afraid to get involved. Being better allies in general and moving forward with trans legislation will help,” he said. “Homeless shelters are a massive issue in Asheville — trans people are kicked out of homeless shelters regularly. They’re not offered shelter because the shelter is Christian-based, or because they’re very gendered spaces.”

Starting this year in Asheville, the names of those lost in the past year were projected onto the Merrill Lynch building across the street, something Soper said helped explain the event to passerby.

“Sometimes it can be a very isolated event that people walk by, they’re not really sure what’s going on, they know it’s sad but may not want to get involved, and I think that projection impacted it.”

Stephen Wiseman, an activist who identifies as a transgender person, called the event a success and hopes for further awareness of transgender issues moving forward.

“The trans community in Asheville is a huge community, and oftentimes the gay and lesbian community gets lots of attention,” he said. “There are specific needs of gender variant and trans-identified individuals that also need to be met in this community. Hopefully by bringing awareness to those of us who exist in this community who identify as trans, we are making progress in the right direction.”

Marchers pass around candles to light during the vigil.
Marchers pass around candles to light during the vigil.
The march to Vance Monument originated at the U.S. Cellular Center.
The march to Vance Monument originated at the U.S. Cellular Center.
Emotions come to the surface during readings remembering transgender people murdered in the past year.
Emotions come to the surface during readings remembering transgender people murdered in the past year.
Supporters bow their heads in remembrance.
Supporters bow their heads in remembrance.

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About Pat Barcas
Pat is a photojournalist and writer who moved to Asheville in 2014. He previously worked for a labor and social rights advocacy newspaper in Chicago. Email him at Follow me @pbarcas

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3 thoughts on “Activists say transgender people still face uphill battle in Asheville

  1. This was a solemn, reverent event, and yet there was a joy of life among us, we who are a trans and those who journey with us in support.

    I am “simply open” as a married, Christian woman of transsexual experience, in part so that we, who are trans, are a little more visible. AND in our growing visibility, we are lifted from the pages of caricature up into the warmth, and fullness of every other human being. Yes, we are alive, and we are much like everyone else: we hope, dream, hunger, bleed; we are your spouses, your friends, your neighbors, fellow students, fellow citizens; we are the passer-by; the kind stranger; we stand in line with you at the store. Like everyone else, we just want to be who we truly are.

    Blessings & Joy!!

  2. Janet von Berky

    I know it’s a big leap from having support and discussion groups, and organizing well-attended successful events like TDoR, to starting up even a small trans-friendly homeless shelter or group home. But it would seem to me that the Asheville community is getting close to having the critical mass to do this, and it’s desperately needed. It’s never right when someone who finds themselves homeless, often through no fault of their own, has literally nowhere to go in a first world city. Like many others, I’m praying that some community groups (including some of the Christian groups) could band together to get this happening soon in Asheville.

    • Goodness yes Janet!! It *is* beginning to happen here. *Thank You* for praying!! :-)

      Some of us as individuals and families are forming a network, an “underground railroad” to help our homeless ones.

      “Be Loved House” is a wonderful group that loves everyone including trans folk, and God does wonderful things through them far beyond their size and means – they routinely take-in people other shelters reject for religious or gender reasons. People are not simply sheltered, they are valued and grown. (

      Some of us would like to be able to make a place like “Rivendell” (Lord of the Rings) for trans folk and allies to be able to gather, celebrate, grow, serve, be sheltered if necessary while they are most vulnerable.

      I hope and pray all this can come to pass, and more.

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