Guest Post: Meeting Spiritual Needs on Transgender Day of Remembrance

Barbara Satin is the Faith & Work Associate at the Institute for Welcoming Resources at the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force. She shared this reflection with GLAAD as she prepared to commemorate Transgender Day of Remembrance, on November 20. 

As I prepare for the 14th Annual Transgender Day of Remembrance this November 20, I can’t help but recall the evolution of this service in our Twin Cities metropolitan area of Minnesota.

I have been convening this event in the Minneapolis – St. Paul area for the past 13 years – one year after the first Day of Remembrance was held in San Francisco to pay tribute to Rita Hester, a trans woman killed in a yet unsolved crime a year earlier in Boston.

Our first gathering in Minneapolis was a small group of primarily trans and gender non-conforming folks. The number of deaths that were reported was also relatively low – seemed enormous at the time but subsequent years would show dramatic increases. 

We struggled through our first service not sure what was appropriate and how not to let the event become too traumatizing or unsettling to the trans community audience.

One of the feedbacks we received was that part of the first event was too religious for some in the group to handle since churches and other faith settings had been the cause of so much pain and harassment in their lives.

While we transgressed on our first attempt, having a non-religious aspect for the Transgender Day of Remembrance has been an important element of the event to which we and the originators have tried to adhere as completely as possible.

But that brings up another challenge; how then do religious groups participate and show their support to the transgender community for this important, if tragic, annual event?

My suggestion to those looking for an answer to this question has been to suggest they do their own liturgical services within their faith communities but keep them separate – both in date and context – from the November 20th Transgender Day of Remembrance.

And then, most importantly, promote and attend the Transgender Day of Remembrance memorial event in your communities. If there isn’t one, then consider reaching out to your local transgender community – or the LGBT community – to start one.

The past 12 years run through my mind as I unwrap the many tea candles that will be lit as the names of the deceased are announced; as I search for the small bell we toll as members of the local Twin Cities community read the names; and I as I prepare the Power Point that will show the name, date, location and cause of death (mostly graphic and brutal).

We have done these preparations so many times before and the lives lost to the fear and hatred of others always seems so senseless, yet we continue to have this memorial service.

Our spirits are lifted when we come upon a year when fewer transgender people are killed; we wonder if we have reached a point where things are changing for the better – only to have our hearts broken when the next year’s toll is higher than before.

Like this year when there will be 39 candles lit (or more when the tally is updated before November 20).

The blessing from this event has been growth in the number of people who join us as lesbian, gay and bisexual supporters and as straight allies. While our first gathering was primarily transgender, now the room is filled to overflowing with whole galaxy of participants: trans men and women, gender non-conforming individuals, gender queers, gay men and lesbians, bisexuals, straight men and women. They are young and old, a rainbow of colors.

They acknowledge our pain and suffering, yet realize that they can never understand what it is like to be us. But they come because they want to stand with us. And comfort us. And maybe to act against this violence that shakes us to our core every November. 

May it be so!