Transgender Day of Remembrance

Transgender Day of Remembrance occurs annually on Nov. 20. It is a day to memorialize those who have been killed or murdered as the result of transphobia (hatred or fear of transgender and gender non-conforming/non-binary people). We also remember those who died as a result of suicide. This day serves to bring attention to the continued violence and non-acceptance endured by the transgender community.

Currently, Transgender Day of Remembrance is observed in cities all across the U.S. and in more than 20 countries. As of November 2017 in the United States alone, 23 people have been murdered just for being transgender or gender non-conforming/non-binary, a majority of whom are transgender women of color. It is time to stop this violence, hate and senseless death! It is time to celebrate the wide range of gender diversity many Americans and especially many New Yorkers share.

We often confuse a person’s sex with their gender. A person’s sex (with the exception of people who are born intersex) is determined by their physical anatomy at birth. Gender is in our minds: how we see and think of ourselves, how we know ourselves to be, how we express who we are to other people around us.

In our culture, we quantify sex and gender as a binary of possibilities – male/masculine or female/feminine — with little room for variation in between. Transgender and gender non-conforming/non-binary individuals transcend or cross over these traditional gender lines. We view life not in a strict male/masculine or female/feminine binary concept, but rather a much fuller, richer continuum of possibilities across a variety of gender-related spectrums.

Often misunderstood, transgender is an umbrella term used to describe a larger group of people whose sex assigned at birth does not match our gender identity or outward expression. This may also include people who identify as gender-non-conforming or non-binary. Transgender individuals may be in various stages of changing their physical bodies in order to bring their minds, bodies and spirits into one whole, unified, happy person. Some transgender individuals may not have the desire or finances to change their physical bodies but still wish to live on a full-time, permanent basis in their preferred identity opposite from their birth sex.

Transgender, the “T” component of LGBTQI, refers to how we identify, express ourselves and desire to be accepted on a daily basis. Many people in society today view LGBTQI as a “choice.” I can assure you this is not a “choice” to be forced to hide ourselves from those we love, live or work with for fear of rejection, harassment, loss of employment, loss of access to medical or behavioral health care services, denial of social services, denial of public accommodations, housing, physical or verbal assaults or the very real possibility of being murdered. These are not “choices” we make. We are not looking to be changed, fixed or forced into a lifestyle deemed socially acceptable.

Transgender New Yorkers face severe discrimination. A recent survey showed 18 percent of transgender people in New York were unemployed, 37 percent live in poverty, and 15 percent reported losing a job because of their gender identity or expression. Seventy-four percent of school-age children in grade K-12 experienced some form of mistreatment such as being verbally harassed, prohibited from dressing according to their gender identity, disciplined more harshly, or physically or sexually assaulted. Fifty percent were verbally harassed, 23 percent were physically attacked, and 12 percent were sexually assaulted because of being transgender. Fourteen percent faced such severe mistreatment they left a K-12 school. Twenty-five percent of transgender students in college or vocational school were verbally, physically or sexually harassed.

The attempted suicide rate among the transgender community as a whole is approximately 41 percent. That number increases to between 51 percent — 61 percent when bullying, harassment, sexual assault and other criminal acts are included. Over 50 percent of transgender youth under the age of 20 have considered or attempted suicide. The suicide rate in the general population is less than 5 percent. The reasons for these suicides vary with each individual person. Major contributing factors include non-acceptance by parents, spouses and family members, bullying and harassment in schools, places of employment, places of religious worship and non-acceptance by society in general. Clearly the numbers referenced above are unacceptable to a society that is supposed to welcome and support diversity amongst all people.

This is the time the transgender community is making ourselves known. We are carving out our place in modern society. We are becoming more visible in the workplace, in our neighborhoods and in society. If we are to live in a modern, progressive society, should we not welcome and accept all people regardless of sex, race, ethnicity, disability, sexual orientation, gender identity and expression along with all the other protected groups of people who reside in this state?

2017 marked the 10th consecutive year the New York State Assembly has passed the Gender Expression Non-Discrimination Act (GENDA), which seeks to make discrimination against transgender people explicitly illegal under New York state law. This also marked the 15th year the New York State Senate has failed to bring this vital piece of civil rights protections to the floor of the Senate for discussion, consideration or an up-or-down vote. The transgender community will not rest until the New York State Senate and more specifically our senator, Betty Little, do all they can to ensure this vital legislation is passed in this coming legislative year.

Our great nation was founded on the principles of life, liberty, freedom and justice for all; yet even today we fail to live up to these lofty principles we so proudly profess. The transgender community is not looking for “more” or “special” rights; we are only looking for EQUAL rights already extended to other members of our society. We seek to accomplish this not only through legislative action but more importantly through education, understanding, acceptance and love!

Kelly Metzgar lives in Saranac Lake.