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.”