Members of the Las Vegas transgender community came together November 20 to memorialize all of the people murdered as a result of transphobia and transgender hatred in 2016. Known as the Transgender Day of Remembrance, the event was designed to raise awareness about hate crimes against those in the trans community and honor individuals lost.
The mood was somber at the Space, a new theater and multipurpose venue on Polaris Avenue. The memorial focused not only on deaths in the United States—with guests reading names off flashcards during a candlelit vigil—but also transgender people killed in hate crimes internationally; all told, some 295 people have been murdered this year.
The memorial was the final event of the six-day Trans Pride Week, which focused on raising awareness while celebrating and empowering the trans-expansive community and its allies.
“We stand here today to say that those lives counted, and we remember. We are here in solidarity,” said Metropolitan Community Church senior pastor Rev. Robert Fleming.
The reading honored people like Monica Loera (Austin, Texas), Crystal Edmonds (Baltimore, Maryland) and Mercedes Successful (Haines City, Florida)—all killed by gun violence—and Amos Beede (Burlington, Vermont), who was beaten to death.
“Our existence is the greatest resistance,” said the Center’s transgender program manager and vigil organizer Blue Montana. “Being transgender is very difficult, but so is existing in this world sometimes even not being transgender. We need our allies more than anything at this time, to stand behind the trans community and to help us face what’s coming up in the next four years.”
“I’ve been coming to this event for ten years, and I’m glad to see everybody here, but I’m tired of having to come to this day,” he continued. “I’m tired of having to read these names. If you see somebody being mis-gendered, if you see somebody being picked on, say something. It’s simply the right thing to do.”
If there was a positive to take away from the mournful day, it was that there have been no reported transgender murders in Las Vegas this year or in recent history, according to Montana.
That doesn’t mean the work here is done, or that the community isn’t facing hardship. The most pressing issues the Las Vegas trans community faces, Montana says, are housing and employment.
“Nevada has really good anti-discrimination laws, but we’re a right to work state, so it’s really easy to say ‘We don’t need you here anymore,’ and you really can’t prove it’s because of your trans-identified status,” he says. “Housing is the same way.” Montana is currently overseeing seven homeless clients at the Center.
Trans Pride committee member Dave Ballou echoed Montana’s statements. “There’s a huge homeless population for the trans community,” he said. “A lot of employers are not willing to step out of their comfort zone and give trans employees a chance, and that’s why they end up homeless. I think if we could work on the acceptance of trans individuals in the community, they would be more likely to get hired by companies, and it would alleviate some of the homelessness and violence toward them.”
Montana said youth are the hardest hit. “We need housing specifically for LGBT youth—not just T youth, but LGBT youth–because trans youth are not the only ones who get kicked out of their housing. They have no place to turn. A lot of them end up staying on the street. They end up dead. There really are no resources specifically to help them.”
Ballou and Montana agree that education and solidarity are key. “A lot of times, we see allies out here and then we don’t see them the rest of the year,” Montana said. “Come to every trans event that you hear of. If you hear of a gender conference in your area, go to it. If you hear of a trans movie screening, go to it. Mingle with the trans community. That’s where we need to see our allies all year long. We want to bridge that gap.”
For more information on Trans Pride, services and events, visit lasvegastranspride.org, thecenterlv.org and genderjusticenv.org.