I’ve struggled to find the words to describe what the Transgender Day Of Remembrance means to me. Each year on November 20th I pause to mourn the loss of so many whose lives have been cut short because of senseless violence fueled by prejudice. This year, like every year, as I read through the names of community members who have died, I find myself thinking about the names that are not on this list – of the dozens if not hundreds of transgender and gender nonconforming homeless teenagers whose names will never be included, because our community has forgotten them before they are even gone.
It is estimated that 40% of homeless youth in the United States identify as Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, or Transgender (LGBT), and we know that transgender youth, are overrepresented within that percentage. 26% of LGBT youth are kicked out of their homes when they come out; 78% of LGBT youth were removed from or ran way from foster care placements because they were un-welcoming or hostile toward the youth’s sexual orientation and/or gender identity. This is an epidemic that is impacting transgender teenagers in every community across the country regardless of socio-economic class, race, religion, or geographic region.
In every major city across the country there are hundreds of homeless transgender youth sleeping on the streets because they fear bullying and harassment in shelters, or because they have been assaulted and threatened in foster homes. In every suburban and rural area in this country there are transgender youth who are sleeping on friends couches, or living in their cars because they don't have a home to return to. According to the National Runaway Switchboard, every year 5,000 homeless and runaway youth die from assault, illness, and suicide, and LGBT youth are 7 times more likely to be victims of violent crime than their heterosexual peers. How many of these youth’s names never make it into the names read at candlelit vigils?
If our goal is to ultimately stop violence against transgender people, it is not enough to mourn those whose deaths receive widespread media and community attention. We must also break the cycle of homelessness amongst transgender youth. We must lobby for culturally competent shelters that do not segregate youth based on sex assigned at birth. We must fight for the creation of more LGBT-specific shelters and work to increase and stabilize their funding. Today as we mourn the loss of so many, we must also work to prevent future violence against some of our community’s youngest and most vulnerable members.
Sassafras Lowrey is an internationally award-winning storyteller, author, artist, and educator. She believes that everyone has a story to tell and that the telling of stories is essential in the creation of social change. Sassafras is the editor of the Kicked Out anthology (coming soon from Homofactus Press), which is bringing together the voices of current and former homeless LGBT youth. She is a monthly columnist for Curve magazine, and her prose has been included in numerous anthologies. Sassafras regularly teaches LGBT storytelling workshops at colleges and conferences across the country and lives in NYC with her partner, two cats, and a princess dog. To learn more about Sassafras and her work, visit www.PoMoFreakshow.com