Jo Jones at DOR

Houston City Council Member Jolanda Jones reads the name of Rani Shahu of India who was found strangled in her home.

Houstonians observed the Transgender Day of Remembrance last Saturday night at Farish Hall on the University of Houston Campus. Organized by the Houston Transgender Unity Committee, the memorial service recognized those across the globe who’ve lost their lives due to anti-trans violence.

Speakers at the event included transgender activist and recent city council candidate Jenifer Rene Pool, County Judge Steven Kirkland, Victory Fund Board Member Bryan Hlavinka and Fiona Dawson and Allyson Robinson of the Human Rights Campaign. Houston Independent School Board Member Anna Eastman told of her personal journey to better understand the trans community, and the struggle she experienced to pass HISD’s trans-inclusive nondiscrimination policy.

“When I was running [for school board] people I knew who mostly got it were still afraid of things like gender identity and gender expression and what was that going to mean about where someone was going to go to the bathroom,” said Eastman. “Instead of thinking how do we provide a safe dignified place for that human being they were thinking about themselves and how it made them uncomfortable.” Eastman thanked Houston area transgender activists Jenifer Rene Poole and Monica Roberts for their work in passing the nondiscrimination policy.

Eastman also spoke about the recent controversy created when her fellow school board member Manuel Rodriguez distributed an anti-gay flier during his re-election campaign. “We saw in our recent election that people have a lot to learn,” said Eastman. “We still have a journey to go on.” She added that the large number of people who came to speak to the board about the flier gave her hope. “What I relized at our last board meeting is that we created a safe space for that outrage to be voiced, by kids, by straight allies who are employees of our district, by gay parents who are employees of our district and it was just a really painful thing but it was also pretty amazing and beautiful.”

As always the Day of Remembrance ended with the reading of the names of those killed due to anti-trans violence. Each name was read by one of six readers, along with the date of death, the cause of death, and an exhortation to those in attendance to remember the victim.

As the pain and terror of those horrific deaths swept over the audience, occasionally punctuated by gasps of shock, the introductory words of Lou Weaver, president of the Transgender Foundation of America, hung in the air, reminding all of why this night is important.

“Do not let any of these deaths be in vain. Not only should we honor the lost here, but we should honor them every day by being the voice they no longer can. Stand up, stand strong, stand together.”