Berkshire Transgender Day of Remembrance: Pittsfield event lends support to transgender community

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PITTSFIELD — For a few minutes this Thursday, as people gather in a Pittsfield church, the tragedy of ongoing violence against transgender people will become specific.

Mesha Caldwell, shot and killed Jan. 4 in Canton, Miss.

Chay Reed, shot and killed April 21 in Miami.

Ebony Morgan, shot multiple times and killed July 2 in Lynchburg, Va.

Those are three of the two dozen transgender people believed to have been victims of homicide in the past year in the United States, according to records kept by the group GLAAD.

The names of the lost will be read aloud at what's believed to be the city's first observance of Transgender Day of Remembrance, an international event on or near Nov. 20.

The Berkshire Transgender Day of Remembrance will be held from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. Thursday at St. Stephen's Episcopal Church at 67 East St.

Speakers will include Jahaira DeAlto, City Council President Peter Marchetti, the Rev. Joseph Farnes, Tegan Joy Cook, Ray Garnett, Kenneth Mercure and B. Bradburd.

The event will close with a candlelit procession around nearby Park Square.

"It's been a very trying year for the transgender community," said Mercure, an event organizer. "The rate of violence toward trans people is going up."

While the state Legislature recently moved to provide protections for transgender people, a movement is afoot to get a question on the 2018 state ballot rolling back those gains, Mercure noted.

This past year also saw President Trump ask the Pentagon to bar transgender people from military service and national fights over access to public restrooms by transgender people.

"This is particularly timely now," Mercure said of the event.

DeAlto is an activist and Pittsfield resident who began her gender transformation as a 16-year-old high school student in Boston. She spoke at last June's inaugural Berkshire Pride event in Pittsfield and is preparing to help mark another first Thursday.

DeAlto will read from a list of international victims of transgender violence. That list includes 25 victims in the U.S., Mercure said.

"It's definitely not been an easy year," said DeAlto, who will also serve as the event's emcee.

Still, she said she wants the event to honor those people, particularly the young, who have shown the courage to be their true selves in the face of bias.

"It's also a celebration of life, of those trans people who are still here and galvanizing and who are making things better for those who will come after," DeAlto said. "The onus lies on all of us to live in authenticity and encourage others to do the same."

Marchetti will read a municipal proclamation declaring a Transgender Day of Remembrance for the city of Pittsfield.

Transgender Day of Remembrance was launched in memory of Rita Hester, a transgender woman killed in 1998. Events are held in thousands of communities around the world, according to GLAAD and local organizers.

The ceremonies were started by Gwendolyn Ann Smith, transgender advocate. Their purpose is to raise awareness about violence perpetrated on transgender people and to build public support for equal rights.

After participants arrive at Park Square, they will hold a brief standing vigil. Following that, participants are invited to return to the church for refreshments and socializing.

"People can talk about the event and their feelings about it," Mercure said.

Larry Parnass can be reached at lparnass@berkshireeagle.com, at @larryparnass on Twitter and 413-496-6214.


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