Transgender Day of Remembrance honored at WSU


Khánh Nguyễn

The director LGBTQ Coordinator for WSU, Bradley Thomison, speaks during Transgender Day of Remembrance observance at WSU.

Anti-transgender violence is a fact of life for many transgender people. As of Nov. 20, Transgender Day of Remembrance, 22 homicides of trans-Americans have been reported in the last year. Worldwide, at least 310 transgender people were killed due to anti-transgender violence in that span.

Transgender Day of Remembrance (TDoR) honors those who lost their lives due to anti-transgender violence and brings attention to the ongoing problem of violence against people who are viewed as being different.

From Wichita to Warsaw, thousands of people gather every Nov. 20 to commemorate the dead and encourage the living. About 80 people attended a remembrance ceremony in room 266 of the Rhatigan Student Center Tuesday. The event was sponsored by Wichita State’s Office of Diversity and Inclusion; WSU’s Spectrum: LGBTQ & Allies; Wichita Transgender and Community Network (WiTCoN); and the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network (GLSEN).

“People wanted to change their sexual identity because they feel like that’s who they were born to be, and they’re being murdered for it,” said Colby Blades, social chair for Spectrum. “I think it’s a pretty terrible thing.

“We want to make others aware — these people have lost their lives just being who they were always meant to be all along. We want to make other people aware that this is a real thing. It’s a real issue.”

Transgender people face high rates of physical violence, intimate partner violence, and sexual violence, as well as daily aggressions. TDoR draws attention to the sometimes deadly world that transgender people have to navigate.

“Trans panic is still used as a defense in court for people who commit acts of violence, and what that says is, ‘Yes, I killed this person but I only did it because they were trans,’” said Bradley Thomison, WSU’s LGBTQ coordinator at the Office of Diversity and Inclusio. “That way of thinking that the violence is somehow justifiable because of who the person is is unacceptable.”

During the ceremony, Blades and Abi Hurst, president of Spectrum, read the names of those who were killed in North America. In addition, the countries where a trans person was murdered were read along with the number of people killed per country. The list is comprised exclusively of transgender people who died because of anti-transgender violence. It does not include those who died due to domestic violence, suicide, or natural causes.

Based on the data, the U.S. had the third highest number of anti-transgender homicides in the last year. Between Nov. 20, 2017 and Nov. 19, 2018 the countries with the most transgender homicides were:

  1. Brazil: 141
  2. Mexico: 62
  3. The United States of America: 22
  4. Colombia: 14
  5. Argentina: 8

During the reading of the names, people were encouraged to come forward and participate by dropping a pebble into a glass of water.

“This reminds us that the people who lost their lives, they have stories and they have communities and families of their own and the loss of life leaves an impact and a ripple,” Thomison said. “We feel that here in Wichita.”

Claire Powell, communications chair for Spectrum, said the ceremony was about remembering people for who they knew themselves to be — regardless of how they were seen.

“I don’t feel like hiding myself is that much of a choice. I can be me and maybe not be accepted, but being somebody else and being accepted for that isn’t really a good life,” Powell said. “Tonight, we honor those who were brave enough to be exactly who they are for however brief a time it might have been.”

Liz Hamer, chapter director of GLSEN Kansas, spoke about the importance of educating the community — including educators themselves — about transgender people.

“Our whole national organization is founded on the principle of educating homophobia and transphobia out of our culture and out of our U.S. climate,” Hamer said. “We hope that someday we no longer have to have days of remembrance — that someday our community and culture will be so educated on these topics that transphobia is no longer a thing.”

Thomison said this kind of awareness has measurable effects on institutions and classrooms, including WSU.

“One thing that I am proud of is that WSU does have a policy that protects transgender people,” Thomison said.

Thomison, who graduated from WSU in 2009, said WSU has improved its policies regarding transgender rights since he was a student.

“I think the most important thing is that a change has been made regarding the notice of non-discrimination,” Thomison said.

“Wichita State has a commitment to LGBTQ people and they demonstrated that in having gender identity, gender expression, and sexual orientation in our notice of non-discrimination here for several years and in the creation of my position about a year ago. It makes me feel very proud to work for an institution that values me and values us,” he said.

Thomison warned that it’s important not to become complacent when fighting for equality.

“I think that as we see progress being made, it’s sometimes easy to become complacent or be like, ‘Oh yeah, we solved that problem,’ and even though it’s great that our policies at Wichita State protect trans people, it’s not a protected class in the state of Kansas or the city of Wichita — even at the federal level,” Thomison said.