By Sofia Britto Schwartz
In Oakland, California, the Oakland Police Department has made a clear statement of support for the remembrance of transgender lives lost to anti-transgender violence within the past year. At the Oakland Transgender Day of Remembrance Memorial held on November 20, 2013, there were a great number of Oakland police officers of all ranks attending the memorial at City Hall. They sat within the audience, in uniform, as a sign of solidarity - the police chief made their goal as a police department clear when he spoke to the assembly.
“Upon taking this position six months ago,” said Oakland Police Chief Sean Whent, “I set as one of my top priorities to really work on improving this department’s relationship with the community. So on a Day of Remembrance, it’s important to keep that in mind, that the goal is to preserve all human life because all human life is precious.”
November 20th, 1999 was the first Transgender Day of Remembrance - it was and still is an opportunity for local transgender groups to raise awareness of anti-transgender violence and for allies to come forward and show their support. This first gathering was inspired by the brutal murder of Rita Hester, a transwoman in Massachusetts.
This terrible murder could have easily fallen into the shadows like so many other anti-transgender killings, but the following year, Gwendolyn Ann Smith, a very active transgender writer and advocate, organized a speak-out and candlelight vigil to raise awareness for Hester’s murder. Over 250 people came to commemorate her life and the anniversary of her death.
This 1999 event was soon being recreated in cities across the country and quickly became an annual event. Nowadays it is a global day which serves as the culmination of Trans Awareness Week, a series of events to raise awareness of the difficulties and discrimination that gender nonconforming people face. This week starts on November 14th each year and culminates in the Transgender Day of Remembrance on November 20th.
“We have the chief of police, who brought the assistant chief, deputy chief, five area captains,” said Officer Johnna Watson, Public Information Officer for the Oakland Police Department. “We have lieutenants. We have officers who attended tonight’s day of remembrance. We are listening and we are hearing.”
Echoing those sentiments, Chief Whent noted that “We’re only going to be successful in reducing crime if we work with the community, and that’s all aspects of the community, and so it’s very important to really bridge that gap and work together.”