Olympia vigil honors transgender victims who died from hate crimes

Amy Layton, 28, was born and raised in Olympia – and was born as a male.

About eight months ago, Layton began transitioning to become the female she was meant to be. The process has liberated her from a lifetime of depression and confusion.

Before the transition, Layton was consumed with suicidal thoughts and feelings of worthlessness.

“I’ve known since I was four that I was born to be a girl,” Layton said. “I had to be who I was. I decided to go and make it better and live my life trying to be a beacon of light.”

Layton was among local residents who shared personal stories at Olympia’s second annual Transgender Day of Remembrance, which is part of an international event that dates to 1999. More than 100 people attended Thursday evening’s candlelight vigil at Sylvester Park to memorialize transgender people who died from hate crimes. The vigil was followed by a reception titled “Transforming Our Future” at the Urban Onion.

One thing that has surprised Layton – and reinforces the value of the Transgender Day of Remembrance – is the discrimination and harassment she regularly endures, even in a progressive place like Olympia.

“I’ve had random people spit on me and throw stuff at my car,” Layton said, adding that she has also been denied service at local businesses. “This is 2014, and if that’s happening in Olympia, then there’s always going to be a need for this event.”

The vigil was organized by Partners in Prevention Education, Stonewall Youth and Capital City Pride. Attendees lighted a candle for every transgender victim’s name that was recited by emcee Kerry Scott, who asked for 10 seconds of silence in honor of the victims.

“What did they do? Absolutely nothing except be themselves,” said Scott, a pre-op trans woman from Olympia, regarding the victims. “We are no different than the people you love.”

Erika Laurentz praised Olympia’s overall welcoming attitude toward people from the transgender community. Laurentz has visited other parts of the country, including the Midwest, where the level of acceptance is lower than what’s found in her hometown.

“It’s a really amazing place,” said Laurentz, a former police officer who began transitioning from male to female about two years ago at age 61. “I knew when I was four. I remember thinking God had made a terrible mistake.”

Lucas Miller is a longtime advocate for Olympia’s gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender community. Miller participates in several local organizations such as Pizza Klatch, which provides support – and pizza lunches – for local LGBT youth who are struggling with their gender identity or sexuality. Miller also runs a weekly transgender discussion group.

“The trans community often seems like it’s riding the coattails of the gay community,” said Miller, who was born a female. “There are several issues unique to us.”

Miller said the transgender population is especially vulnerable to violence, drug abuse, poverty, depression, homelessness, suicide and unemployment. Even basic health care and insurance can be a challenge for the transgender population, Miller said, lauding the recent Affordable Care Act as a crucial step in meeting that need.

“For many trans people,” he said, “it’s a basic day-to-day struggle just to stay alive.”