Olympia hosts Transgender Day of Remembrance to honor victims, raise awareness

An annual event will memorialize transgender people nationwide who have died because of hate crimes.

The Transgender Day of Remembrance includes a vigil from 5-7 p.m. Thursday at Sylvester Park in downtown Olympia. Following a candlelight vigil, a reception called “Transforming Our Future” will take place at The Urban Onion, 116 Legion Way.

The day of remembrance is part of an international event that dates to 1999, and despite Olympia’s reputation for tolerance, organizers say the event’s message is more relevant than ever.

An array of speakers will discuss transgender-related issues such as discrimination and medical needs, said Renata Rollins, who is co-organizing the event with Partners in Prevention Education.

“We hope that it raises community consciousness about this next civil rights frontier,” said Rollins, noting that transgender folks still encounter negative experiences in Olympia. “It’s considered a more progressive area, but these things still happen, and we still have a long ways to go.”

About 75 people attended last year’s day of remembrance, said co-organizer Sammy Harvell, program director for Stonewall Youth, a nonprofit group that empowers gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and questioning youths. The goal is to further erode the stigmas, fear and misinformation surrounding transgender people.

Harvell, who is in the process of medically transitioning from female to male, says he has transgender friends who have been killed or who committed suicide. Although this week’s event will include mourning, it also offers an opportunity to energize the community.

“We want it to foster hope in what seems like a hopeless situation,” said Harvell, who praised the city of Olympia’s efforts to serve the LGBT community, such as recent code revisions that target discrimination.

Harvell supports a study or survey to collect data on transgender residents. Several online sources cite the Human Rights Campaign for reporting that 1 in 12 transgender people in the U.S. risk the chance of being murdered. Nearly 41 percent of transgender people have attempted suicide, according to a survey from the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force and the National Center for Transgender Equality.

Victoria Quaintance, board chair for Gender Alliance of the South Sound, agreed that statistics for the local transgender population are nonexistent.

“I do not know of any studies or reports of the number of trans people who live here or access services,” Quaintance said in an email. “We desperately need better data. There just isn’t the will due to apathy and lack of monetary gain in such studies.”

Olympia author Talcott Broadhead, a professor at South Puget Sound Community College and an expert in transgender issues, said transgender people are more at risk for violence, economic disparity and family rejection, especially transgender women of color.

Everyone has a gender identity, and that identity can play out in several ways, Broadhead said.

“Gender is what’s between your ears,” said Broadhead, noting the distinctions between gender, sex (“between your legs”) and orientation (“who you love”). “Sometimes they all line up and sometimes they don’t.”

For example, Broadhead identifies as “gender queer,” which means neither male nor female.

“I’ve certainly been kicked out of both bathrooms,” said Broadhead, who asked not to be referred to with pronouns. “At times in my life, I’ve felt more feminine or masculine. But I’ve always felt very much like a Talcott.”