About 200 people gathered at Travis Park United Methodist Church on Tuesday evening to commemorate transgender people killed around the world in the past year.
As part of the international Transgender Day of Remembrance, the San Antonio Gender Association and Pride Center San Antonio held a memorial service honoring transgender victims of deadly violence. So far in 2018, at least 22 transgender people have been killed in the United States, according to the Human Rights Campaign’s annual report on anti-transgender violence.
Ashley Smith, president of the San Antonio Gender Association, said the victims could have been anyone. And like every year, women of color bore the brunt of the violence inflicted upon transgender people.
“Since TDOR’s founding in 1999, we have lit far too many candles,” Smith said. “We must do more to understand and reduce the underlying cause of this bloodshed. … We must do more than remember our siblings who we have lost this past year. We must confront violence in all of its forms.”
Of the 22 people killed in the U.S., 82 percent were women of color, 64 percent were younger than 35, and 55 percent lived in the South. The Human Rights Campaign report also clarified the use of “at least” was intentional, because 22 is likely an undercount. Some deaths may go unreported or victims may be identified by their birth gender in reports, according to the campaign.
Since 2013, the Human Rights Campaign has tracked 12 transgender murder victims in Texas. Three of those victims were killed in the past year. Brandi Seals of Houston was killed last December. She was 26. Nikki Enriquez, who also went by Janelle, was killed in September in Laredo at age 28. And Karla Patricia Flores-Pavón, 26, was killed in May in Dallas.
At Travis Park UMC, five people took turns reading the 369 names of transgender people killed around the world, lighting candles in their honor.
Luka Rios, a member of the mayor’s LGBTQ+ advisory committee, said she felt somber hearing the names of transgender men and women being read.
“I can only think, am I next? Can that be me?” she asked. “No human should ever have that fear.”
Rabbi Marina Yergin of Temple Beth-El said that though transitions in life happen to everyone – transitioning from childhood to adulthood, from physical spaces and mental spaces – transitioning gender is unique to the transgender community.
“We recognize the difficult but ultimately fulfilling journey of transitioning gender for this community,” she said. “And like Jacob, who became stronger wrestling with himself and became Israel, we recognize and appreciate how your transition makes you an even better, stronger version of yourself.”
Every person is made in the image of God, said Yergin, one of several religious leaders who attended.
“That phrase, selem elohim – made in the image of God – may seem like it’s only talking about our physical characteristics, but it isn’t,” she said. “It is our physicality, our drive, our desires, our dreams, our hopes. It is everything.”
Smith urged those gathered to reflect on their own actions, and to work to eradicate racism, sexism, misogyny, homophobia, transphobia, and poverty.
“As we read the names tonight, please do not consider yourself a mere spectator,” she said. “These victims were taken from all of us. And they were no less human than any of us.”