- November 20, 2013
The following post comes from Cecilia Chung, Senior Strategist of the Transgender Law Center, a National Advisory Board member of UCSF Center of Excellence for Transgender Health and the current Chair of the U.S. People Living with HIV Caucus. Appointed by Mayor Ed Lee to the San Francisco Health Commission on April 2012, Cecilia is the first transgender woman to hold that position:
Twenty-one-year-old Islan Nettles had dreamed of making a name for herself in the fashion industry. She overcame poverty and began to build a life for herself, working for H&M in New York and designing her own fashion line. To her friends and families, the transformation of Islan from an insecure youth to a confident transwoman should have made her a celebrated role model in any community.
In August of this year, misogyny, sexism and transphobia escalated into violence and robbed her from the community and families that loved her. The brutal beating left her brain dead after being in coma for almost a week. Sadly, stories like Islan Nettles’s seem all too common, as communities around the globe read off the list of the deceased at their respective Transgender Day of Remembrance events.
Unfortunately, the toll extends beyond violence against the names and nameless in my community. Structural violence such as employment and housing discrimination, denial of healthcare access, bullying, family rejection, stigma and transphobia affect almost every transwoman and transman, especially when he or she is a person of color. In actuality, structural violence may have taken more toll on trans people as over 60 percent of trans people who have experienced some form of violence reported a history of attempted suicide at some of point in their lives.
Perhaps that is the reason why I feel personally invested in speaking against all forms of violence as I have lived through three and a half years of family rejection and sexual and physical violence on the street. Those multiple layers of violence were what led me into the night I almost lost my life in the August of 1995, when one of two men stabbed me after their unsuccessful attempt to assault me sexually. I have not let one day go by without feeling grateful that I survived and began my journey of reconciliation with my family. I am also grateful that as I am writing these words, I can reflect on all the legal and policy advances that my community has made in the past two decades. However, with high incidents of HIV and the right wingers continuing to find new ways to attack us, we cannot be complacent. Instead, we need to be more vigilant than ever to ensure all our legal advances are permanent. It is only by doing so that we can secure a better, safer future for the generations to come.
This year, after grieving the lost lives of Islan Nettles and others at your local TDOR, please take a moment to remind one another of our shared responsibilities to the living. Let us not forget also to applaud the courage of every trans* person for living as their true selves despite all the adversities and, most importantly, let us celebrate the resilience of all our trans* brothers and sisters who have survived violence and who are pursuing their dreams.
November 20 is Transgender Day of Remembrance. Throughout the week HRC is featuring a series of guest posts from transgender community leaders around the country. Read other posts and find details on a vigil near you by visiting hrc.org/tdor.