Coachella Valley, national events spotlight violence against transgender Americans

November 19th, 2013 | by Will Dean | Comments

A glow of courage, grief, encouragement and determination is expected to illuminate the College of the Desert Amphitheater during a candlelight vigil Wednesday evening (Nov. 20) as transgender Americans who were killed in the past year are remembered.

Starting at 5 p.m., Coachella Valley residents will gather to memorialize the victims and call attention to the prejudice, abuse and other violence transgender people regularly face. The Palm Desert ceremony is a part of Transgender Day of Remembrance across the world. The program will be hosted by COD’s Gay Straight Alliance in partnership with Student Life and the TransScribe campaign, with LGBT students and their allies taking the lead.

Shelley Alexa Somerville, founder and chief strategist of TransScribe, says, “My intention is to have [the] Transgender Day of Remembrance 2013 be not only an honoring of those who were murdered, and murdered brutally, for simply being themselves, but also an opportunity to engage, educate and call to action the broader Coachella Valley community, so that such hatred [will] be eradicated.”

The ceremony continues until 6:30 p.m. at the amphitheater, which  is on the COD campus at 43-500 Monterey Ave., Palm Desert. The public is invited to attend.

Shelley Alexa Somerville of TransScribe speaks during a Transgender Day Remembrance event in 2011 at a Palm Springs Church. File photo

Shelley Alexa Somerville of TransScribe speaks during a Transgender Day of Remembrance event in 2011 at a Palm Springs Church. File photo


About 30 people gathered Saturday (Nov. 16) at The LGBT Community Center of the Desert in Palm Springs for a remembrance ceremony. Transgender residents shared stories and memories of their friends and others they had only read about who had been subjected to extreme transphobia, including a transgender teen who fell asleep on a bus in Oakland and was set on fire by other passengers. That teen, Sasha, suffered severe burns but survived and is expected to recover in eight months.

According to statistics, one in every 12 transgender Americans do not survive the violence they experience.

Special recognition also was given for Masen Davis, the transgender man who heads the Transgender Law Center in San Francisco, and for transgender champion Alexis Rivera. Until her death from AIDS-related causes in 2012, she was an advocate/leader/sister to many transgender residents in the Los Angeles area. She was the first trans-specific caseworker at Children’s Hospital.

On a lighter note, the visibility of transgender entertainers was highlighted, including Laverne Cox of “Orange Is the New Black” and Janet Mock formerly of People magazine.

“We’re starting to get social acceptance,” Emma, an event organizer, said. “By taking our stand and saying, ‘We do live among you and contribute positively to the community,’ it’s a slow fight but we continue to make strides.”

The ceremony culminated with the reading of names of transgender Americans who’ve died since last  year, as attendees lit candles on two sides of the room in their memory.

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