For the People: Freedom to Be

by Lillian Mark, Community Building Division Operations Manager

Lillian Mark_Freedom to Be
Last November, GLIDE’s Women’s Center honored International Transgender Day of Remembrance (TDOR).  TDOR began in 1998 to honor Rita Hester, a member of the transgender community whose murder remains unsolved – like most victims of anti-transgender violence.  Once a year, GLIDE’s Women’s Center honors the transgender men and women who have lost their lives because of hatred, intolerance and prejudice.  In addition, GLIDE’s Women’s Center took this opportunity to build allies for the transgender community, and began by reading this poem:

First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out–
Because I was not a Socialist.
Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out–
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out–
Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me–and there was no one left to speak for me.

(Martin Niemöller, Protestant Pastor, 1892-1984)
Talilah Douglas, Women’s Center Domestic Violence Specialist, read the names of the men and women who have lost their lives to anti-transgender sentiments in the past 12 months (http://www.transgenderdor.org/).  The Women’s Center served as the container for the overwhelming despair and heartache rising to the surface of our skin and into the room.  We listened and we wept.  Zwazzi Sowö, Women’s Center Program Manager, reached over and held the trembling hand of a sister.  I began to wonder if I would survive this reading.
Name: Deoni, Carla, Soraya, Thapelo, Unknown, Paige, Chrissie…
Location: Philadelphia, São Paulo, New Westminster, Antalya, Baltimore, Rio de Janeiro, Oakland, Chicago, Kuruman, Finsbury, Thankassery, Detroit…
Age: 16, 22, 23, 37, 51…
Cause of Death:    Severe head trauma, gunshots, strangulation, burned, stoned, multiple stab wounds…
We remember not only those who have died, but also those who are still trying to survive the atrocities of targeted violence;  those grieving the loss of a loved one(s); those who are afraid to speak up for themselves; and those who are afraid to speak up for others.  For some, this moment magnified the fear and harassment they experience daily because they are transgender.  For some, it triggered memories of survival on the streets and in their own homes, past and present.  All of us are affected.  The time we take to remember this truth is a gift.

GLIDE’s legacy has shown me that it is not what you do, but how you choose to do it that makes a difference.  A friend once asked “How does Rev. Cecil Williams earn the trust and support so many people?”  I wanted to give a well-articulated response that sufficiently summarizes the charisma of this great individual, but instead I did what GLIDE has taught me to do – to reach deep within.  “It’s because Cecil is about love and people.”  There are too few places in this world where all people are allowed (and supported) to experience the fullness of their humanity without shame and judgment.  There are too few places in the world where we can hold people in love without the influence and resistance of our religious, political, cultural, and individual beliefs.  This year, I am grateful for GLIDE’s Women’s Center and all the places within GLIDE’s community where love, compassion, and hope exist.

“If one of us is not free, then none of us are truly free.” – Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.