WINCHESTER — Several local organizations will hold a service and candlelit vigil Wednesday night at Shenandoah Valley Metropolitan Community Church to remember and raise awareness of transgender people whose lives were lost to violence.
The event will begin at 7 p.m. at 203 N. Washington St. (the Quaker Meeting House). It is being held in accordance with the National Transgender Day of Remembrance (TDOR), which raises awareness about people murdered as the result of transphobia. The Human Rights Campaign reports that at least 22 transgender or gender non-conforming people have been killed this year. Last year, 26 transgender or non-conforming people were killed, most of them black transgender women.
This year marks the 20th anniversary of Transgender Day of Remembrance. The event was founded by transgender woman Gwendolyn Ann Smith in 1999 to memorialize the murder of transgender woman Rita Hester in Allston, Mass.
The Rev. Mary Bohacek of Shenandoah Valley Metropolitan Community Church said Wednesday’s service will include a reading of the names of people who had been killed. Other local groups participating in the event include the AIDS Response Effort (ARE), the Hideaway Cafe and the We Matter Winchester LGBTQ support group.
Bohacek said these groups are trying to get the community more involved with issues impacting transgender people. She said Wednesday’s event will include a presentation at the church at which attendees will be educated on the history of transgender activism and the Transgender Day of Remembrance. There will also be a reading of the names of the 22 people lost to violence this year. Afterward, the crowd will have a candlelit vigil and processional to the Hideaway Cafe at 141 S. Loudoun St.
Bohacek said it is important to remember that transgender people “are still a part of our community.” She said people can help by participating in events like TDOR and “stop glossing over what we don’t like to talk about.”
Emily Foltz, an early intervention services worker with ARE, said in addition to safety concerns, transgender people are at risk of workplace discrimination.
“It’s stuff you don’t hear about because it gets pushed under the rug,” Foltz said.
Foltz said leaders and employers need to seek resources to educate and train their employees to treat transgender people with respect.
ARE’s Housing Services Program Manager Oscar Cerrito-Mendoza, a moderator for the We Matter Winchester support group, said Winchester lacks resources related to transgender healthcare and transitioning education. He also said the community is not a place where many feel comfortable being open about their gender identity.
“We are still in a close-minded community where transgender is not really accepted, even sometimes within the LGBTQ+ community,” Cerrito-Mendoza said. “So I feel like they need a lot of resources at this moment.”
Bohacek said her congregation frequently talks about LGBTQ acceptance and visibility.
“It’s not just being present and visible, but being outspoken and honest so people who aren’t able to be outspoken and honest have the courage to do so,” Bohacek said. “Then, ultimately, we learn to love each other better. Because you can’t care about somebody and love somebody if you don’t know who they are. At least, that’s my perspective.”