“Remember not how they were taken from us,” said Jaye Johnson, chair of the City of West Hollywood’s Transgender Advisory Board, “but the beauty that we [still] have access to.”
Such words of remembrance for the lives of trans people taken from the world too early were spoken to an audience of about 500 people in the auditorium of the Center for Early Education on Alfred Street.
Nearby colorful banners and posters reading “Honesty, Inclusion, Responsibility, Caring” and “Acceptance Is Seeing With Your Heart, Not With Your Eyes” hung from the walls, fitting accompaniments to the evening’s purpose.
West Hollywood Mayor John Heilman followed Johnson at the podium, striking a solemn tone when he said trans people are often the “most visible and, therefore, most subject to violence.” Giving a “shout out” to the event’s organizers from City Hall, particularly Bonnie Smith, Heilman acknowledged a representative from Congressmember Adam Schiff’s office in attendance.
WeHo City Council members Lauren Meister and Lindsay Horvath followed the mayor. “We support you,” Meister said, “and support you until there are zero names” to remember on this day. She added: “There is a lot of hope,” a reference to last Tuesday’s elections, particularly in Virginia where a trans woman, Danica Roem, was elected to an American state legislature for the first time and a trans woman, Lisa Middleton, was elected to the Palm Springs City Council.
“It is an honor to be of service to this community,” Horvath said. “I cannot say enough how much the trans community means to the City of West Hollywood.”
Alma Rose, a spiritual leader who traveled to WeHo from New Mexico, led a small group of people dressed in indigenous-influenced costumes in Native American prayers as a “ceremonial blessing.” Rose said she was “honoring the four directions” of north, south, east and west, traditions that originated with the Aztecs.
The names of murdered trans people were then read aloud.
Prior to the ceremony, attendees congregated in the school’s outdoor courtyard for free hors d’oeuvres under strings of illuminated white lights.
Two large, colorful altars honored the dead. One was illuminated by tea lights and featured framed photos of trans people. The second altar featured signs reading, “Trans Power: Rise Up As One” and “Health 4 All” with a digital display of the trans victims.
Adjacent to the alters was an information table with brochures entitled “Transgender Visibility: A Guide to Being You” and “Know Your Rights: Transgender Student Rights at School.”
At one point, woman blew into a Conch shell, sending a mournful tone of grief into the crowd.
Lindsay Garfield, a young singer, musician and cocktail waitress at Saint Felix on Santa Monica Blvd., described why she was there. “I want to raise my own awareness,” she said. “It’s so devastating.” She added: the trans community is “a very beautiful community, and also a very vulnerable community.”
Two students from Glendale Community College traveled from Highland Park and Silverlake to check out the event. Milo, 21, identified himself as “non-binary trans-masculine queer” before adding, “Oh, of color.” He was there because “I like being in places with a lot of trans people.”
Yali, 22, said he came “out of support and not really understanding anything.” He added: “I’m not sure of my gender identity. I’m just trying to figure it out. It seemed to be an important event.”
Johnny, a 65-year-old trans woman, “came out” as her “authentic self” four years ago. “I lived as a male dude, an alpha male,” Johnny said, now asking: “What’s my pronoun?” He/She/Him/Her? “I am all those things.”
“I’m happy with whoever I am,” Johnny added. “If you don’t have the right descriptive word for me…I’m just myself. I could even be a ‘they,’ I don’t know.”
What kind of future social change do attendees want to see? Without hesitation, all three millennials raised a topic very much in the news lately. “It’s really hard for people who are non-gender conforming,” Garfield said, “to use public restrooms. It makes it very difficult for them to live in the world.”
“I would love a gender-neutral bathroom,” said Milo, “so I can stop doing the guesswork.”
“And, he added, “also for the murders to stop.”