PITTSFIELD — The first time that Tegan Joy Cook, a transgender woman from New Lebanon, N.Y., was walking down a street at night and questioned her safety was the moment she truly understood the privilege she had experienced living the first 43 years of her life as a white man.
Before Cook transitioned several years ago, she would have been the "scary guy" in the alley.
"I don't have a lot of fear, in some ways, but I want to take the realization that I've had about privilege and share it," Cook said at the Berkshire Athenaeum on Monday evening, where the Pittsfield Rights Commission hosted a forum in honor of the national Transgender Day of Remembrance.
The Transgender Day of Remembrance was started in 1999 by advocate Gwendolyn Ann Smith, as a vigil to honor the memory of Rita Hester, a transgender woman who was killed a year earlier. On Nov. 16, Pittsfield Mayor Linda Tyer signed a proclamation officially recognizing Nov. 20 as Transgender Day of Remembrance in the city.
Cook told the crowd Monday that she feels lucky to have been accepted by the community when so many transgender men and women across the world are killed each year.
Ashley Shade, who ran for City Council in North Adams this year, said privilege is different for her.
"I'm 6-foot-3 and used to play football," Shade said. "I've never had someone come up to me and insult me to my face."
Critics, she said, insult her online.
Before the election this month, Shade said, she received plenty of messages from individuals saying "stupid things."
But it was one message from a Donald Trump-supporting Christian conservative that stood out to her.
The man told Shade that he voted for her because she's "the voice of reason," she said.
"That's what we have to get to," Shade said. "We need to learn to treat people with respect and dignity, whether we agree with them or not."
Jahaira DeAlto, who called Hester a sister and mentor, read a list of more than 30 names of transgender men and women who have been killed.
"I think everybody who steps outside their front door as their authentic selves are the most courageous people I know," said DeAlto, who was 16 years old when she learned she had an intersex condition and began her transition.
Now a student at Berkshire Community College and a Pittsfield resident, DeAlto is concerned with the lack of access to "trans-competent health care" in Berkshire County.
Transgender individuals whose transition includes chemical or surgical treatment are traveling more than an hour to seek help because it's unavailable locally, she said.
"It's really unconscionable to me," DeAlto said.
Haven Orecchio-Egresitz can be reached at email@example.com, at @HavenEagle on Twitter and 413-770-6977.