This is the speech that my friend Kelly Moyer gave at San Diego’s Transgender Day Of Remembrance memoriam at the San Diego Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Community Center. It’s not the usual message of sad memoriam, or a message of hope for the future — she instead focused on how trans people treat each other.
There’s a lesson in here too for broader lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT) community on how to treat our siblings in community.
San Diego Transgender Day Of Remembrance Keynote Address
By Kelly Moyer
November 20, 2010
When I was asked to speak at this year’s Day of Remembrance, I wasn’t sure what I wanted to say. Some previous speeches have shared messages of hope and change and progress. This will not be one of those speeches. Other speeches called us to action and encouraged us to be out, to educate the people around us and show them our humanity. This will not be one of those speeches either. We do have reasons to be hopeful, and we do need to keep educating people, but there are other issues we need to discuss tonight.
Every year, we read the names and stories of people who were murdered for being – or appearing to be – trans. At the end, we recognize all the victims whose stories were not told, and whose names we will never know. But we never talk about what may be the largest group of victims. Violence does not always involve blows from a fist or bullets from a gun. People who take their own lives – overwhelmed by pain and driven to despair by the hatred, cruelty and intolerance around them – are just as much victims as the people whose names we hear tonight.
News reports talk about a recent epidemic of suicides amongst youth who were bullied for being – or seeming to be – trans, bisexual, lesbian or gay. It is an epidemic, but it is hardly recent. Countless studies have shown that suicide rates in the LGBT community – especially amongst youth and trans people – are many times greater than the overall population, and have been for some time now. A recent survey found that 41% of trans participants had attempted suicide at some point in their lives, which is 25 times higher than the general population… and that only counts the survivors. If you know three trans people, it is likely that at least one of them has attempted suicide at some point. I am one of those survivors.
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As horrible as the statistics are, it is easy to feel overwhelmed… to feel like there is nothing we can do to stop the deaths. If it doesn’t affect us personally, it is easy to think of it as a problem that other people need to solve. But even if you aren’t an activist, or can’t afford to donate money to organizations, or can’t be out in your personal life, there are are some simple things we all can do to make a difference.
The first thing each of us can do to help reduce trans suicides is to stop being part of the problem. We can’t just talk about the hatred and prejudice directed at us by other people… we have to confront our own. We all have prejudice of one sort or another. It might be based on the color of someone’s skin or the language they speak, their political or religious beliefs, the size of their body or a disability they have. Maybe it’s directed toward lesbians, or gay men, or straight people. Or perhaps it is directed at members of this very community.
Far too often, we tear each other down instead of building each other up. This person gets cast out because they want an operation we would never consider. That person is shunned because they don’t want surgery that we had. He gets excluded from groups because we don’t like his ideas about gender, she’s left out because she “looks too trans.” Nobody talks to her because she does sex work. Nobody talks to him because he’s gay. We don’t respect them because they don’t want hormones, or they’re genderqueer, or they crossdress. Or maybe we just aren’t quite ready to be seen in public with a trans friend, because who knows what people will think about us.
Making people feel disrespected, isolated and worthless contributes to suicide, and all of that… all of it shows up in our community. We do that to each other! We can’t very well demand that the rest of the world treat us better than we treat each other, can we? Think about the way you interact with other community members – the things you say and do, openly or behind their back – and ask yourself how you will feel if you find out tomorrow that they killed themselves tonight.
The second thing each of us can do is to actively be part of the solution. We can do better than just not making each other feel disrespected, isolated and worthless. If we truly act like a community, we can help each other feel respected, accepted and worthwhile. But what does being a community mean? Who does it include? Is it only people like us? Is it only people we like? Does it just mean showing up for a few events each year, or something more? Is it even possible for us to be a community when we are so different from each other? I think so.
Being a community doesn’t mean we all have to be friends. It doesn’t mean we have to agree about everything. It doesn’t mean we have to agree about anything! It doesn’t even mean we have to like each other. What it does mean is that we treat each other with respect, even when we disagree or dislike one another. It means knowing that every voice deserves to be heard, and making sure that happens. It means standing up for each other when one of us is being harassed. It can be as simple as sharing information about safe housing, or available jobs, or going to the hospital with someone to make sure they are treated well… or sharing some food. Being a community means understanding that we are stronger together than we will ever be apart… that we need each other, and can count on one another.
Suicide takes too many people from us, and scars many people it doesn’t kill. There are members of this community struggling to hang on right now. Some of them aren’t here because it was just too hard to step through the front door. Some are sitting in this room right now.
If you are one of them, I want you to know something. We may not know each other, but you are an important part of my community. I feel stronger knowing that you and I are in this together, because you add value to this world that nobody else could ever replace. I care that you are here, and if I found out tomorrow that the pain was too much to bear… that you couldn’t hold on any longer… it would break my heart. And I am not the only person who feels that way.
I would like everyone in this room who feels the way I do – who would be devastated by the loss of anyone here – to raise your hand and show our community that you care.