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Many have died due to transphobia

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, which we see at an alarming new rate on the emanating from federal government against its own people.

Currently, Transgender Day of Remembrance is observed in cities all across the U.S. and in more than 20 countries around the world. In the preceding 12-month period (November 2018 to November 2019) in the United States alone, 23-plus people have been murdered, just for being transgender or gender non-conforming/non-binary. A disproportionate majority 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.

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% of transgender people in New York were unemployed, 37% live in poverty, 15% reported losing a job because of their gender identity or expression. 74% 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% were physically attacked, and 12% 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%. Over 50% of transgender youth under the age of 20 have considered or attempted suicide. The suicide rate among the general population currently resides at less than 5%! 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 among all people.

The transgender community is continuing to make ourselves known and visible in modern society and in daily life. 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?

Transgender Day of Remembrance commemoration service will be held this Sunday, Nov. 17 from 1 to 2 p.m. at St. Luke’s Episcopal Church, 136 Main St, Saranac Lake. This free, non-denominational event is open to the public, co-hosted by Adirondack Unitarian Universalist Community, St. Luke’s Episcopal Church of Saranac Lake and Adirondack North Country Gender Alliance.

Kelly Metzgar, executive director of the Adirondack North Country Gender Alliance, lives in Saranac Lake.