Advocates of Marin’s LGBTQ+ community gathered this week for a somber reflection on violence against transgender victims.
The candlelight vigil at the Spahr Center in Corte Madera was held on the Transgender Day of Remembrance — an annual event held on Nov. 20 since 1999 — to commemorate deaths in 2023 caused by transphobia in America.
“We want people to see people as real people,” said Jane Spahr, founder of the LBGTQ+ and HIV-positive resource center. “We always want to honor those who lived so courageously. It takes so much courage when you know who you are and dare to live as who you are.”
The attendees came and went over the course of an hour. All sat silently in the central foyer of the building, where a memorial featured photos and short descriptions of transgender people who died in the last year in the U.S.
“The purpose of the event is to honor those who were lost to anti-trans violence and hate,” said Matt Easterwood, chief development officer at the Spahr Center. “We want to reflect, remember, memorialize and honor all the trans souls that have passed this year.”
In 2023, there were at least 33 fatalities of transgender and gender non-conforming people in the United States, according to the Human Rights Campaign. There were 41 transgender and gender non-conforming fatalities in 2022. A record 59 fatalities of transgender and gender non-conforming people were recorded in 2021.
Spahr said estimates of deaths were up to 300 people worldwide this year. She noted that the recorded fatalities did not come from Marin, though there remains an active advocacy movement in the county to protect transgender people, especially youths, from the threat of violence.
She said that despite the reputation that California and Marin have as inclusive communities, exclusion and prejudice remain.
“We are trying to collapse a system of prejudice and mythmaking that describes people as an ‘other’ when we are actually so connected,” she said.
The Spahr Center offers community programs, many of which are geared to trans and non-binary youths. It offers two drop-in community support groups for adolescents and teens, as well as professional peer support for mental health programs.
Aaron Almanza, executive director of the LGBT National Help Center, said the Transgender Day of Remembrance is a solemn reminder that much of the United States, including California, could be unsafe for transgender people.
“There is a disproportionate amount of violence towards people who are transgender,” he said. “The numbers are incredibly high in the country, but they’re also incredibly high in the state of California.”
Violence against transgender people is a difficult metric to determine because some people are not open about their gender identity when reporting incidents, Almanza said.
“There is an incredible amount of people who don’t feel safe being recorded with that piece of identification,” Almanza said.
The LGBT National Help Center’s main program is a national hotline that offers anonymous and confidential advice to people seeking guidance on their gender identity or sexuality. More than half of the callers have questions related to gender identity, Almanza said.
“They do amazing work up in Marin. There’s a lot of places in the country where there isn’t a community center for people to gather,” Almanza said. “It’s super important for places like Spahr to exist. It’s a place where people can gather and find support with others.”