Living Authentically in West Hollywood

When I landed in Los Angeles for the first-ever trans people of color town hall and the 13th annual Transgender Day of Remembrance, I immediately heard that a trans woman of color, 32-year-old Cassidy Vickers, had been murdered.
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As I flew into Los Angeles for the first-ever trans people of color town hall and the 13th annual Transgender Day of Remembrance (TDOR), a time to honor the memory of those whose lives were lost due to anti-transgender violence, I had no idea what was happening 30,000 feet below me.

When I landed on the ground, I immediately heard that a trans woman of color, 32-year-old Cassidy Vickers, had been murdered. Another victim had been shot at (but not harmed) in nearby Plummer Park.

Ironically, Plummer Park was where the TDOR event was to be held on Sunday, Nov. 20.

Sadly, it had been less than a week since I had been on a conference call with folks in Detroit in response to the brutal murder of yet another trans woman, Shelley Hilliard, who, at 19 years old, was just beginning her life.

In light of these senseless murders, it is common for misplaced blame to fall on the victims. But no one deserves to die in this way.

All people, regardless of their gender identity or sexual orientation, deserve dignity and respect as a human being.

Someone should not be a target because they live their life authentically.

According to a recent report released by the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs, trans people of color are disproportionately impacted by LGBT hate crimes, with trans women constituting 44 percent of LGBT hate crime victims in the past year, and people of color constituting 70 percent of the victims.

These statistics are just the tip of the iceberg. As reporting of these crimes has gotten better, law enforcement and the media are beginning to identify our gender identity correctly.

Identification of who we are is important because it raises awareness and fuels tolerance.

Unfortunately, there still remains much work to be done. Often, missing trans people are never reported by family members who have rejected them.

I am certain there are many of us in the morgue or whose bodies have never been found and go unaccounted for. In fact, most of these cases go unsolved.

In addition to being more susceptible to violence than other groups, trans people of color are denied employment, education, homes, health care, and access to shelters, hospitals, and simple things such as riding the bus or getting identification.

These obstacles put our community at greater risk of being victimized. All people need access to these basic structures of society in order to survive.

Despite all the work that lies ahead us, I am hopeful.

At the West Hollywood Transgender Day of Remembrance ceremony, it was encouraging to see community, government, and law enforcement work hand in hand toward solving this problem.

It was extremely moving to see that the City Council of West Hollywood was there in force and offered support.

It was impressive that the Council has an appointed body of trans leaders that are empowered to work all year to address these issues and concerns.

This kind of commitment must be present from our government officials. The showing of solidarity by law enforcement was also unprecedented.

While some of us may not have had positive experiences with law enforcement in our lives, the presence of law enforcement officials was powerful. It felt as if they had lost one of their own. The concern and emotions the officers had were almost palpable.

The event was deeply moving. From the performances to the speeches, each moment was a tribute to those whom we have lost and a call to make sure this does not continue. There was such a diverse gathering of people and an immense sense of unity. It was my honor to be a part of it.

TDOR in West Hollywood was a promising example of how everyone from the local community, government officials, and law enforcement must work together.

The message must be sent that there is zero tolerance for these senseless acts -- from the use of anti-transgender slurs to workplace harassment, bullying in schools and family rejection of our youth.

These all have the potential to fuel hostility and lead to violence, in some cases murder. When our society rallies together to raise awareness and ensure that the trans community receives equal protections, the message will be clear: transgender equality is about everyday people who want the same chance as everyone else to earn a living, be safe in their communities, be safe in their schools, and take care of the ones they love.

It will take a combination of education, laws, and policies to even begin to scratch the surface of addressing these horrific tragedies.

All these pieces must work in tandem. We must each do our part.

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