PLATTSBURGH — Though November was a time to give thanks, Genie Denton said many Americans found themselves simply thankful to be alive.
The Behavior Health Services North STOP Domestic Violence community educator and volunteer coordinator spoke at the 2019 Transgender Day of Remembrance.
The event, held in the Alumni Conference Room of the SUNY Plattsburgh Angell College Center on Wednesday evening, was an Adirondack North Country Gender Alliance and SUNY Plattsburgh RADIUS club partnership.
The emotional ceremony, celebrated on a national and international level every Nov. 20, read aloud the names of 22 transgender men and women who had been murdered in the last 12 months.
"Today, we gather here to remember those who are not with us anymore, those who continue to live in fear and those who feel constricted and unable to live as they wish," Denton said.
ADK North Country Gender Alliance Executive Director Kelly Metzgar said the gathering of 30-or-so college and local community members was not a celebration.
"This is a very hard service," Metzgar said. "We give their names, where they were from and, most importantly, how they were killed.
"In sharing their story, we honor who they were."
THE HIS/HER STORY
The annual event could be traced back to November 1999.
It was that year, Metzgar said, that transgender woman Gwendolyn Ann Smith held the first Transgender Day of Remembrance event, memorializing her friend Rita Hester.
Hester, a 34-year-old transgender black woman, had been murdered in Massachusetts the year prior.
"Rita was not the first transgender person to be a victim of transphobia and violence," Metzgar said, "but it was her death that sparked the Transgender Day of Remembrance, not only in this country, but throughout the world."
TO BE TRANS
"Transgender" was defined as someone whose sex was not in line with their gender identity.
In a guest editorial published in a recent issue of The Press-Republican, Metzgar said an individual's sex was determined by their physical anatomy at birth.
"Gender is in our minds," the editorial says. "(It's) how we see and think of ourselves, how we know ourselves to be, how we express who we are to other people around us."
The opposite of transgender was dubbed "cisgender," or someone whose sex does match their gender identity.
SUNY Plattsburgh Title IX Intern and LGBTQ+ Student Union President Sam Hinman said there were ways cisgender allies could help the transgender community.
"Ally-ship is an important part of any kind of community," Hinman said. "It can be little things like sharing your pronouns."
To share one's pronouns was to, at the start of a conversation and/or when introducing oneself, designate one's own preferred pronouns, like he/him, she/her or they/their.
"If you have cisgender privilege, you can use that to share your pronouns and make it easier for your trans-siblings to be able to do that — and have their pronouns be respected," Hinman said.
Title IX Violence Prevention Education and Outreach Coordinator Zyaijah Nadler spoke at the event to say family was not defined by blood relationships.
"We are family here and we need to do more and do better for our family here," Nadler said. "Our family is crying out for us. Our family is dying."
Like Hinman, Nadler agreed there were ways the cisgender population, or not, could step up for their transgender family members.
They are being discriminated against in the workforce, in finding housing and in other sectors of life, Nadler said.
"If you're asking yourself, How can I do better? Say their names," the Title IX coordinator said. "Tell people that there have been 22 (deaths) this year. Give them a seat at the table."
Nadler also took the time to thank those in the Angell College Center that night, as well as those out in the world advocating.
"If by the end of the night you feel inclined to do more — thank you," Nadler said. "That's what this is event is about — to make sure that these names are not read in vain."
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