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Transgender Day of Remembrance: “Celebrate the Living” While Honoring Loved Ones Lost to Hate

StoryNovember 20, 2019
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November 20 is Transgender Day of Remembrance, a day that honors the thousands of transgender and gender nonconforming people who have been killed around the world. The Day of Remembrance is also a celebration of the community’s resistance and a call to action to fight for policies and a shift in culture that protects trans lives. At least 22 transgender and gender nonconforming people have been killed in the United States this year, and over 3,000 transgender and gender nonconforming lives have been taken since 2008 around the world. We speak with LaLa B Zannell, longtime transgender rights advocate and the co-producer of the Womanity Project feature film “LaLa’s World,” an upcoming documentary series on the experiences of black trans women living in America.

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now! I’m Amy Goodman, with Juan González.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Well, we end today’s show reflecting on Transgender Day of Remembrance. Over 3,000 trans and gender nonconforming people have been killed around the world since 2008. This includes at least 22 so far in the United States this year, mostly black transgender women. Among those who have died in the U.S. this year was Layleen Polanco, a transgender woman who died in Rikers Island in June after she was arrested on misdemeanor charges and then was sent to jail for months because she could not afford $500 bail.

AMY GOODMAN: That same month, Chynal Lindsey was murdered in Dallas, shortly after a video went viral showing her [sic] being attacked by a mob of men shouting homophobic and transphobic slurs. Also in June, a transgender Salvadoran woman named Johana Medina died in ICE custody, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, where her family says she was repeatedly denied medical care. Activists say today is also a celebration of the community’s resistance, and are calling on people to fight for policies that would protect trans lives.

For more, we stay in Washington, D.C., where we’re joined by LaLa B Zannell, longtime transgender rights advocate, co-producer of the Womanity Project feature film LaLa’s World, an upcoming documentary series on the experiences of a black trans woman living in America.

Lala B Zannell, we welcome you to Democracy Now! Talk about the origins of this day, of the Transgender Day of Remembrance.

LALA B ZANNELL: First of all, thank you for having me. I just want to do a correction. When you talked about the video that went viral, that was Muhlaysia Booker. I want to make sure that we get the name right so people can understand what happened and to honor her name.

AMY GOODMAN: and tell us what happened to her.

LALA B ZANNELL: OK. First of all, thank you for having me. I just want to do a correction: When you talked about the video that went viral, that was Muhlaysia Booker. And so, I wanted to make sure that, you know, we get the name right so people can understand what happened and to honor her name. And today —

AMY GOODMAN: And tell us what happened to Muhlaysia.

LALA B ZANNELL: Mulaysia Booker, as — it was a video that went viral, where she was brutally assaulted. You know, no one should be brutally attacked like that. No one helped her. And then, after that, shortly, she is no longer with us. To further the insult, also even when they went to trial, the defense, on the other side, was trying to deadname her in this trial, and the judge had threw that out, to try to desensitize what happened, to make it seem like it was two men just fighting, when we know she was a trans woman, a woman, and that causes a lot of hate violence, as well.

Trans Day of Remembrance is a day for trans people across the country to take a moment to celebrate the living, while using that moment to honor the ones that we have lost in this movement. But also it has become like — excuse my French — Christmas to some people. It is also a month where we get so many phone calls from colleges, from newspapers, from all these organizations, that just want to do something and feel that having trans folks come in these spaces, saying the name, light a candle, and going home, and that makes it seem like you’ve done the work, when you have not showed up the rest of the 364 days of the year.

And so, for this year, a lot of trans folks are reclaiming this space and reclaiming this moment, because we’ve had such a hard year with this administration. And we are focusing on intent versus impact. We’re really trying to curate events that are places of healing and places that are not trauma for trans folks, because every time a trans woman, particularly a trans woman of color, dies, it is like you’re always in anxiety, you’re always in the lived reality that you could be next. And so we want to be authentic about honoring those that are here alive, and working with organizations, working with groups and working with each other to come up with tangible solutions, so that next year — the goal is not to be keep on having, “Oh, the numbers are higher. The numbers are higher.” The goal is to have more trans women of color not being killed for who they are. And if we lose some along the way, that it should be for natural causes, and not for you being killed for who you are.

And so, on this day, we challenge people to show up for us daily, not just during TDOR. And I think that there has been lots of events across the country that I’ve been watching that have been informed in doing that. And that’s very, very, very important. Also, policies and laws are amazing. But we also know that that does not always end, because people still can resist against those policies and laws. And so, we know this administration has clearly gave a very fine clue that transgender people are the target of this regime. And so, the thing that you can do, as state lawmakers, local lawmakers, as organizations, as corporations, as common neighbors in your neighborhood — the best way for you to combat that is for you to show up for trans folks, for you to call out transphobia when it happens in your neighborhood, for you to not misgender trans people, for you to honor and protect the ones that are in your neighborhood, for you to go to your schools and tell schools that you don’t mind that trans folks go there, and they need safe spaces to go to the bathroom, and they’re allowed to play in sports, and they’re allowed to go to the prom as their authentic selves. You show up to your job, and you say, “In this space, we’re going to hire trans people. We’re not going to allow transphobia. We’re not going to discriminate against people.” And when you see violence happening, you don’t just pull out your phone and record, but you actually be a bystander to end the violence against trans women of color.


LALA B ZANNELL: And to people who are — yes, go ahead.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: LaLa, you mentioned the attacks of the Trump administration.


JUAN GONZÁLEZ: What about the role of the mass media, as well, in terms of being possibly complicit in the violence against trans people?

LALA B ZANNELL: Correct. Well, I think that, over the years, trans — there’s a lot of trans leaders and trans folks around the country, like you have, you know, Monica Roberts, who does her own blog. You have trans leaders that work at Out magazine and other places. I think that we are at BuzzFeed, you name it. And I think that we’re trying to take over the narrative and trying to be on top of the misgendering and the deadnaming that happens in the media, and being on top of telling media how to talk about our stories and how to reach out to the leaders in progressive areas where that happens. And media also needs to spin the narrative of — that our lives are real, that our existence is real and that our experiences are real.

So, I will give you an example. Right? So, say you’re watching the 10 — you know, your morning news this morning. Unfortunately, there’s a tragic thing that happens, and, say, a woman is killed. The news reporter will say, “Sally, a beautiful mother of four, a beautiful — she went to church. She was beautiful in her community. She was tragically murdered.” That’s the narrative, right? For a trans person, it is “A trans person was murdered.” Then it’s like they will find the name that they had, which is a deadname. They will bring up their criminal record. They will try to insinuate that they were indulging in sex work. They will try to insinuate that they were fooling someone and not being their authentic self. And that is not the narrative.

If you look at the numbers, there have been lots of people who knew folks that they were attached to. There’s a lot of intimate partner violence, which is the same thing as domestic violence, that happens for trans people, for folks who love them causing them harm. They’re for folks who — where even their family members sometimes causing harm. You know, look at the young gay guy who was killed by his own father. And so, there’s a resistance of queerness and a bigger resistance in fear of transness, and particularly trans women of color, who are in the intersections of race and their gender, right? And they’re living in these areas that don’t have the political education or the general education to understand what trans issues are, because they’re not having access to that in school, because they don’t want that in school because it’s not deemed as important. But it is important. It is just like U.S. history. It is just like racism conversations. Gender is a part of this world. It is a part of this community. It has been here for a long time, and it will continue to be here. You can’t erase it.

AMY GOODMAN: LaLa, can you tell us your own story?

LALA B ZANNELL: Hold on just a minute. This microphone is falling out. About? What would you like to talk about?

AMY GOODMAN: Your own story. Just talk about your own experience as a black trans woman and what you think it’s most important —


AMY GOODMAN: — for people to understand.

LALA B ZANNELL: So, for people who are just like me, who are black and brown, I need you to understand that I experience the same racism. The same things that you are conflicting and battling with in this country, I am experiencing the same thing. I just get an extra layer because of my sexuality.

So, I was blessed to be able to have a mother who loves and affirms me. I told my mother at 15 years old. My mother is a pastor. I’m a preacher’s kid. It was very hard for her, as a pastor, to really understand. But one thing she never waved from is that she loved her child, and that no matter what this transition in my life or how she didn’t — she didn’t let her lack of understanding stop loving me. My mother loved me through this whole process. My family has loved me and supported me. And that’s very, very important that your family love and support you through the process.

AMY GOODMAN: LaLa B Zannell — 

LALA B ZANNELL: Yes, it’s hard — uh-huh?

AMY GOODMAN: I want to thank you so much for being with us —


AMY GOODMAN: — especially on this Transgender Day of Remembrance. LaLa is a longtime transgender rights advocate. And, of course, we’ll continue to cover trans issues.

We urge you to tune in today. Democracy Now! is live-streaming the impeachment hearings today at beginning at 9 a.m. Eastern.

And also, Juan, you and I will be, on Friday night, in New York at The People’s Forum at a conference marking the 20th anniversary of the 1999 protest against the WTO in Seattle, the Battle of Seattle. We will both be together and moderating and speaking at the forums, that go for two days here in New York City. I’m Amy Goodman, with Juan González. Thanks so much for joining us.

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