The Transgender Day of Remembrance is an international event to remember those who have been killed due to anti-transgender hatred or prejudice. Although not every person memorialized during the Day of Remembrance self-identifies as transgender — that is, as a transsexual, cross-dresser or otherwise gender-variant — each was a victim of violence caused by bias against transgender people.
Here in the Asheville area, we decided to change the meaning of the event. After last year's Day of Remembrance, I and cochair Naydeehn Messier connected to come up with an option to the mournful event that has been happening here in Asheville for the past 10 years. We came up with a positive and encouraging option that would combine the original day with a follow-up day of celebration.
This is the 11th year that the international transgender community has honored those who have fallen — yet this is the first time a local event to honor the entire transgender community has been held anywhere on these dates and in conjunction with the international event. Our goal is to educate, empower and help all to understand that while there are unsafe situations in the world, we in the trans community no longer need to hide in fear of discovery. I myself lived in stealth for more than 24 years. I transitioned at age 14 and have always lived as a woman. Looking back, I remember the panic attacks I would have about anyone discovering my secret. Now I have no problem helping educate anyone who wants to know about my journey, and what being trans means to me. We are a wonderful community that need not live in remorse, fear or regret.
Asheville Transgender Remembrance Weekend is the local interpretation of the international event. It's more than a memorial for those who have been lost: It's an all-inclusive event to celebrate people of all gender-variant identities, from transsexual to gender queer, androgynous to intersex, and beyond. It's a call to all members of the community to step out from behind fear and guilt, and to be proud of the gift that transgender is. It's a rally cry to defy the idea that violence is an inevitable part of transgender life. Most of all, it's a celebration of the vibrant, diverse and beautiful people who make up the transgender community.
As an out trans-woman, I refuse to allow my community to be viewed as victims. Naydeehn Messier and I co-chair this event with hopes of honoring not only those who have passed away, but also celebrating our community. We will hold our vigil on Friday evening, Nov. 20. Saturday, Nov 21, will be an empowerment day with speakers and discussions.
The Friday memorial gathering will be held from 7:30 to 9:30 p.m. at Pritchard Park in downtown Asheville. As part of the International Day of Remembrance, we will honor those we've lost with the reading of the names from each state of the people who have died during the last year. There will be music and a flashlight march from the park to the Federal Courthouse and back. We have asked Mayor Terry Bellamy to come and speak at the courthouse (as of publication deadline, we had not received a response). Once we return to the park, trans-spirit educator Holly Boswell will be doing a healing closing circle to help project positive energy into both the community and universe.
On Saturday, Nov 21, the day of empowerment will be held at the Fellowship Hall on Haywood Road from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. We will have workshops and seminars to help educate and promote self growth. I refuse to fall into the belief that I was born in the wrong body; I am not ashamed of who I am. Instead, I believe I am exactly who I was meant to be and my goal with the Saturday event is to open up the option of non-binary expression within the community.
At 3 p.m., keynote presenter Mara Keisling will give a State of the Trans address. Keisling is the founder and director of the Washington, D.C.-based National Center for TransgenderEquality. She is an activist in our community and will give us her perception of the latest happenings with the National Hate Crimes Bill and the Employment Non-Discrimination Act. This will give us all insight into what these two pieces of legislation mean to us in the trans community.
TransHealth Coordinators and WNCCHS will be offering Free HIV screenings. We will be taking food donations for Loving Food Resources. Other events include a 50/50 raffle, food and refreshments, resource material and much more. The daytime event is free and open to all. The event culminates in an after-party at LaRue's Backdoor. We will have live bands, drink specials, a raffle with different prizes and discounts at the door. The after-party is also a fundraiser with the proceeds going to TransHealth Coordinators.
For more information on the first Asheville Transgender Remembrance Weekend, please visit our site at atrw.weebly.com.
[Jennifer M. Barge is an out and proud trans woman. A co-chair for the Asheville Transgender Remembrance Weekend, along with Naydeehn Messier, Jennifer is also the director of TranHealth Coordinators, a nonprofit that helps to bridge the gap between health care providers and the transgender community.]