Four vibrant and beloved transgender women of color whose lives were ended in violence join the tumultuous legacy from which we live. I read about their tragic deaths, one after the other, in the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Program (NCAVP) hate violence press releases, during the month of June, with growing anxiety and with the feeling of devastation that takes hold and doesn’t let go. In the midst of the Pride parades and celebrations of June we bury our dead.
A litany of mourning for Kandy Hall, Zoraida Reyes, Yaz’min Shancez and Tiff Edwards and rage against hate violence and death spoken by those of us who must carry on: The body of Kandy Hall was found in a field in Northeast Baltimore on June 3rd. Zoraida Reyes’s body was discovered in Anaheim, California on June 12th, On June 19th the body of Yaz’min Shancez was found in Fort Myers, Florida. On June 26th Tiff Edwards was shot to death in Walnut Hills, Ohio.
Four lives cut off in violence leaving family, friends and community members in grief to sort through for the meaning of life. Four wondrously created unique human beings whose lives can never be replaced. Kandy Hall, Zoraida Reyes, Yaz’min Shancez and Tiff Edwards each with a life story that we must hold with respect and with care, remembering how life is to be honored.
Wailing against the incredible hate we see again and again turned against another human, we are left in mourning and in fear of the reverberating current of violence in our country. The members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ) community who are especially vulnerable are transgender women of color. Struggling at the intersection of multiple oppressions, transgender women of color are disproportionately affected by deadly violence. This tragic fact was reported in the hate violence report by NCAVP released May 29th, 2014. And many of the homicide investigations are never completed. We must draw together, learn to support life and call for the end of violence.
The jagged, gaping hole left in our community in the face of this ongoing violence weakens our connection and our trust of each other, requiring that we strain further to grasp for safety and security. For us as a community who care with the oppressed, the marginalized, not getting involved is no longer a valid choice. Our resolve to create accessible safe and supportive communities must be strengthened, our perspectives from points of privilege and oppression broadened and deepened to respond more effectively. The source of resilience with which we celebrate gay pride is also the source of resilience from which we must support those most affected and advocate with them to prevent and end hate violence.
I know that, in all this anger, pain and anguish, there is something more to be done than regret the loss, lapse into amnesia pretending I don’t understand the cause, ignore the discomforting knowledge that my lack of action is part of the problem, or trade in my hope for bitter pessimism. We do not gain from being still, quiet and unresponsive so as not to be noticed in the midst of the hate that is seeping in around us. We draw strength for change from the witness of the people most affected by hate violence who speak out, and from their invitation to join public actions. We draw strength from practices that build supportive community that hold mutual regard for the value of human life.
Those of us who are part of organizations and communities of faith need to find ways to bridge a diversity of values and beliefs. I feel that the time for self righteous indignation is long past. Blaming each other can get in the way of finding solutions. We can do better than fuel the fire of hate, drawing an imaginary line dividing “us” from “them”. Not always but often there is common ground to support an alliance and build community. Finding common ground is one way to deescalate the power of hate that drives verbal and physical violence, and can even result in murder.
Within organizations and faith communities, intolerance is bred in small deceptions, insisting that we all agree rather than make room for discordant ideas and exploring inevitable conflict. It might seem good to be nice, but it is really life affirming to express fears, frustrations, and failures in daily life leading to acceptance and trust that we can and will do better. In the acceptance of differences of perspective we are less likely to harshly judge or condemn either others or self. More able to see and accept the presence of diversity, and to advocate for increased education and understanding of the devastating effects of racism, classism, nationalism, and other oppressions have on transgender women of color. Everyone deserves to live, and to live without fear.
We can draw together to support and affirm each other, and visibly be present in community to provide the support and affirmation of diversity within the broader community. Gone are the days, if they ever were, when shared beliefs insulated communities from working with others of divergent beliefs. Make a commitment to ongoing personal and organizational ally work. Follow the leadership of transgender women, communities of color, immigrants, and others marginalized by oppressions.
Hold Kandy Hall, Zoraida Reyes, Yaz’min Shancez and Tiff Edwards, their friends, families and community in our hearts and our lives. In memory and as a call to live in justice. Let the Pride celebrations be the stepping stones toward realizing the right to life for all and the role that we each play in creating that today.