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PC(USA) national staff uses Wednesday Chapel service to honor the lives and mourn the deaths of 30 transgender people killed during 2022

The Transgender Day of Remembrance will be observed on Sunday

by Mike Ferguson | Presbyterian News Service

Photo by Alexander Grey via Unsplash

LOUISVILLE — Nearly 50 Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) national staff gathered online Wednesday to remember and honor the lives of at least 30 transgender people killed so far this year during a Transgender Day of Remembrance service. The Rev. Shanea D. Leonard, director of Racial Equity & Women’s Intercultural Ministries, led the service, hosted by RE&WIM and the Office of Gender & Racial Justice.

“I fully embrace this day,” Leonard said at the beginning of the service, “and I welcome you to honor this day with me and those who have tragically lost their lives way too soon.”

Samantha Davis, associate for Gender & Racial Justice, traced the history of TDOR, which is officially recognized on Sunday. TDOR began with the recognition of Rita Hester, an educator on transgender issues in who was stabbed in her Boston apartment 20 times. More than two decades later, police still have not charged anyone with the murder. Advocate and writer Gwendolyn Ann Smith coordinated a vigil in Hester’s honor a year after her murder. That first vigil, according to GLAAD, “commemorated not only Rita, but all who were tragically lost to anti-transgender violence.”

“We know thousands of folks have experienced violence and harm — not just at the hands of those they are in relationship with, but our transgender siblings and gender nonconforming folks experience harm every day by the state,” Davis said, over issues including access to housing and employment and “not feeling safe in their own humanity. Today we honor their lives and their humanity.”

The Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network reports that anti-transgender violence isn’t directed at adults only. In schools, about 16% of transgender students report being physically assaulted as a result of gender expression, while nearly one-third report experiencing physical harassment.

After displaying a collage of transgender siblings who have been killed this year, Leonard read their names, ages and the place where they lived. Most of the victims were in their 20s or 30s. The youngest was 19; the oldest was 50.

“May we learn to love more than we hate,” Leonard said just before asking for a moment of silence to remember the victims. “May the love of God and the peace of God keep their memories and what they stood for in our hearts.”

Ashe Helm-Hernández, an activist, thanked those attending the service “for thinking of transgender and nonconforming folks and everyone on the spectrum. … As we move about this space, take time to think about those who have left us too soon.”

“I am honored to be in this space,” they said, “where trans and nonbinary folks are respected in their life and in their death. … Thank you for having me. I really appreciate this celebration.”

The Rev. Lee Catoe, editor of Unbound: An Interactive Journal of Christian Social Justice, sang “Come, Thou Long-Expected Jesus,” accompanying himself on guitar.

The Rev. Anthony Jermaine Ross-Allam, the new director of the Center for Repair of Historical Harms, prayed “for the gift of life even as we grieve lives lost through the misuse of divine freedom.”

“We pray that you will continue to appear to us. We pray that you will continue to help us make the transition from limiting and death-dealing understandings of your divine gift of life so that we will finally and continue to become people who can see expressions of your divine love in each and every one of the human beings that you have created,” Ross-Allam prayed. “Show us mercy as we make mistakes and give us grace as you open our eyes to the greatest possibilities of human solidarity in every form that your loving children take in the Creation that you love. All this we pray in Christ’s name. Amen.”

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