Transgender Day of Remembrance honors those who have died

Monday is the annual Transgender Day of Remembrance, with events worldwide marking the murders of trans people in 2017. 

26 killings in the U.S., activists say, and 325 known deaths internationally. 

"These folks were more than just numbers on a list, they had full lives," keynote speaker Raquel Willis told the crowd at the SF LGBT Center during a 90 minute program that included a video tribute to those who died. 

Willis is a national advocate for the Transgender Law Center, based in Oakland. 
She noted the highest number of U.S. deaths were in southern and mid west states, including two who were 17 years old. 

"The people on these lists have families and have friends and have communities," she said. 

The Transgender Day of Remembrance was launched in San Francisco in the late 90's, and has spread to more than 300 commemorations around the world.  

City Hall was illuminated in pink, blue and white, the colors of transgender pride. 

Guests arriving at the LGBT Center passed an altar Honoring several local victims, transgender women of color, who are the most frequent targets.

This year, they make up all but 4 of the U.S. deaths.    

"Violence has been happening to them for decades, but no one's been talking about it," Clair Farley of the LGBT Center told KTVU.

Farley and other advocates believe the conservative political climate in Washington, D.C. has fostered increased prejudice- beginning with the Trump administration rollback of transgender bathroom access in schools.

Then came the President's ban- since suspended- on openly trans people serving in the U.S. military. 

On the other hand, the movement say hopeful signs this month as trans candidates were elected to local and state office, including the Virginia legislature.    

"Over seven transgender people were elected into public office across the country, and we had two, even three major policy wins in California," said Farley.  

One speaker insisted, trans people are at risk, even in the progressive Bay Area.  

"My name could have been on there, because in February of this year, I was assaulted by four police officers," said Jim Howley, a community activist who said he was hog-tied and choked on a local beach, after violating curfew. 

"And I cried. And I told the officers, 'I can't breathe, you got to get off me,' and I said it until I couldn't say it anymore."  

Many trans leaders feel advancement has been overshadowed, even sidelined, in favor of the broader gay rights movement. 

"But historically, it has always been trans people leading the fight," insisted Willis, recalling how drag queens led confrontations of the 60's and 70's such as the Stonewall riots. 

Willis is hopeful for the future, however.

Growing up in the South, she came out as a gay teen, then transgender in college, and says she has waded through much stigma to find acceptance. 

"My family is so great, my mom and I are so close, my siblings are close and so I want to create that world and that vision for everyone else."  

Candles were lit and laid at the door of the center as people left the event. 

As much as it is a day of remembrance, speakers said, it is also a day of resiliency.