The Board of County Commissioners began their board meeting with a moment of silence Thursday, Nov. 18, remembering the more than 45 transgender and gender non-conforming lives lost to violence so far this year.
Saturday, Nov. 20 marks Transgender Day of Remembrance. The annual event remembers transgender and gender non-conforming people killed by anti-trans violence. The deaths reported so far in 2021 already exceeds the number of lives lost in 2020, when 36 deaths were recorded.
“Trans Day of Remembrance gives us the opportunity to honor people who were violently taken from this world simply because of who they are,” Chair Deborah Kafoury said. “And in that silent space, we recognize each person’s humanity, their dignity and their truth.”
Transgender Day of Remembrance was started in 1999 by transgender advocate Gwendolyn Ann Smith to honor the life of Rita Hester, a transgender woman who was murdered in Allston, Mass. on Nov. 28, 1988. Shortly after her death, 250 people attended a candlelight vigil in her name.
In recent years, a growing movement has shifted the narrative by celebrating Transgender Day of Resilience as an extension of Transgender Day of Remembrance. By observing Transgender Day of Resilience, the County joins communities across the globe in celebrating the beauty of transgender lives.
“This is a vibrant and beautiful community full of resilience,” said Scotty Sherington, a senior equity policy analyst with the Office of Diversity and Equity, who helped organize the moment of silence. “The love and joy that is shared through projects like Trans Day of Resilience focuses on that story. Even through all this violence, we are still here thriving and creating beauty in the world.”
As a safety net provider, the local public health authority, and an employer of a large and diverse workforce, Multnomah County is committed to creating and ensuring the safety of all communities, and especially those that are at greatest risk of harm, Chair Kafoury said. For example,the trans community — especially trans people of color— experience housing security at disproportionate rates, while Black and Latinx femmes remain at greatest risk of being victimized by anti-trans harm.
"This is deeply personal for me, with a family member who is trans," Commissioner Sharon Meieran said.
One partnership between the Joint Office of Homeless Services, the County’s Office of Diversity and Equity, and the Black & Beyond the Binary Collective is working to reduce such disparities. The BBB Collective works to build leadership, healing and safety for all Black - African transgender, queer, nonbinary, and intersex (TQNI+) Oregonians. Through their Tete Gulley Housing Fund, they have distributed financial assistance to people experiencing homelessness or housing insecurity in Multnomah County.
“I think they’re doing important work on housing and public safety and many other issues that affect our trans community,” Commissioner Susheela Jayapal said. “That’s what we need to do, beyond the remembrance, which is incredibly important. It’s the action that matters, and I think Black & Beyond the Binary is really moving us forward on that.”
While celebrating the progress in reducing disparities facing the trans community, members of the Board pledged to continue taking action to protect and uplift trans lives.
“To our trans community: you are part of our community,” Commissioner Lori Stegmann said. “You are loved, and you are respected. And we will continue to fight for your rights and everyone’s rights.”