By Hannah Brandt
Editor’s Note: This article was originally published in Community Alliance newspaper in December 2017: https://fresnoalliance.com/trans-rights-rally-day-remembrance/.
“Your attendance is your support,” says Zoyer Zyndel, Trans-E-motion chair and emcee at the Trans Day of Remembrance (TDOR) at Fresno State on Nov. 20. Trans-E-motion is a local organization that works to provide support and education to transgender persons, their families, and their friends. Later, Zyndel said that “the goal would be to have a day when we no longer need a TDOR again. To have equality when ignorance is finally dead.”
A Fresno State student named Arias told us that 2017 was the deadliest year on record for trans lives lost, with at least 25 deaths. Trans kids are on average 13 years old when they find themselves on the streets of New York City sometimes due to bigotry, sometimes due to the vulnerability of being trans leading to homelessness. Seventy percent of those living in homeless shelters experience harassment and assault and trans people of color are at higher risk of violence and homelessness.
A few days earlier, at Fresno City Hall, trans activists and allies rallied against the new No Camping ordinance, which allows the police to arrest people for living on the street. Given the high number of trans people who are homeless, the ordinance will disproportionately affect them.
Eighty-four percent of those who died this year were people of color; 80% were trans women. Trans people are 22% more likely than the general population to attempt suicide. Those attempts have increased since the Pulse nightclub shooting of March 2016 and the November 2016 election of Donald Trump. Because these stark statistics represent real individual people with hopes, dreams and feelings, it is important to celebrate trans lives as well. Several performers share their love of music and art through vibrant singing, dancing and poetry.
At the TDOR, each of our seats had a paper with a photo of someone who died in the last year due to violence against trans individuals. Many of them were in their teens and 20s. The picture on my chair was of Scout Schultz, who was a Georgia Tech student killed by police after calling for help. Schultz did not identify as male or female. Schultz had attempted suicide three times and struggled with anxiety and depression. The victim’s parents called Schultz “a very loving, caring and empathetic person.”
A few of the people who organized and moderated the night of remembrance are from the Cross-Cultural and Gender Center. According to its mission statement, the center “exists to contribute significantly to the continued development of a safe and welcoming environment for the Fresno State community. We foster meaningful dialogue and activism that works to eliminate racism, sexism, heterosexism, and other forms of oppression. Our values are based on the feminist principles of equality, intersectionality, and human rights.”
“The center is a community that works toward creating an atmosphere where students, faculty, staff and administrators are empowered and supported in their efforts to lead successful lives–academically, professionally and personally.”
Jude Jackson, a student coordinator at the Cross-Cultural and Gender Center at Fresno State, wanted to talk about mental health and suicide. “Mental illness is swept under the rug. It is always whispered about. ‘If you cannot see it, it can’t be that bad.’ That is 100% wrong. We will talk about it and destigmatize it so that people will come forward without being shunned, shut down and silenced.”
Jackson spoke about Jai Brownstein, a 17-year-old from Bakersfield who went missing. She was found dead from a gunshot. “I grew up in Bakersfield and moved here in 2014,” Jackson said. “If I had not moved here, I’m sure I would have known Jai through the trans community there.”
He went on to say that “almost everyone that is trans is depressed and anxious because they are already put down in society.” People outside of this experience do not recognize how debilitating psychological trauma and mental illness can be. “Dying from mental illness is as painful as dying from physical illness.” Forty percent of trans folk commit suicide. It is a shockingly high number. Jackson says that when living in Bakersfield he tried to take his own life. “Jai must have felt so alone.”
Jackson quoted bell hooks, “Beloved community is formed not by the eradication of difference but by its affirmation, by each of us claiming the identities and cultural legacies that shape who we are and how we live in the world.” In addition to the profile of Jai Brownstein, several other local trans lives lost are highlighted with poster images and personal recollections.
Jess Fitzpatrick, the co-chair of Trans-E-motion, discussed gay liberation and transgender activist Sylvia Rivera, who helped lead the Stonewall Uprising in 1969. She was often barred from gay rights events for being too radical because she talked about the homeless, the imprisoned and the trans community.
He also talked about Dondara De Santos, a trans woman brutally beaten and killed in Brazil in March 2017 by a group of men who recorded the attack. They continued to beat her after she was dead. They did all of this in broad daylight.
Fitzpatrick says her story reminds him of “all the women who flee Central and South America looking for safety in the U.S., immigrants, refugees, dreamers… So as we remember those who have been taken from this world, it is important to remember that violence and oppression against transgender individuals is not a singular issue. Immigration and recent attacks on undocumented immigrants and refugees is a transgender issue.”
Zyndel read a poem that he wrote at two points in his life. “I wrote part before I began my transition and then the rest of it I wrote this morning. The title is also the theme for this evening: More Than Our Parts. ‘We are bound by our oppression, our mutual anxiety and depression… How many times does something we can’t help make people want to see us die?… One day, we will not have to be so on guard when the world recognizes we more than our parts.’”
The final performance of the night was by Kincara. He says he was caught “between wanting a civil discussion with those who hate trans people and just being done” or fed up. Those feelings were reflected in his guitar solos of the songs “Let It Be” and “We’re Not Gonna Take It.”
To close out the evening, the names of those who have died were read and scrolled on the screen while the audience kept a vigil holding up candles. The list seemed to never end.