Dig Baton Rouge

Hopefully Remembering

By Nick BeJeaux

According to preliminary numbers released by tansviolencetracker.org, a woman is reported murdered somewhere in the world every 32 hours – killed because she is transgendered.

Those numbers tracked incidents between Nov. 19, 2013 and Nov. 14, 2014 and showed that the United States is the third leading country in the world for violence against trans people, with 14 murders reported this year. Across the U.S. and right here in Baton Rouge, mourners gathered last week to honor the passing of these victims and for those whose deaths were not reported.

“This is my least favorite thing to speak at; it’s terrible,” said Bruce Parker, director of Louisiana Progress, at the Transgender Day of Remembrance ceremony held in  the Unitarian Church of Baton Rouge. “It’s a tragedy that we are still having these events – that we have to have them in the first place.”

The ceremony, part of a national movement, was hosted by Louisiana Trans Advocates, the first statewide advocacy and social support network for transgendered people. Testimonials were given and small candles were lit for each of the over two hundred names of victims that were spoken reverently aloud. The average age of the victims was between 19 and 29, but the youngest was eight years old; the oldest was more than 60 years old. Overwhelmingly, the majority were committed in Brazil with 154 murders reported. Mexico was second with 31, and, again, the U.S. was third with 14 reported incidents.

“I think it has a lot to do with the society,” said Wendy Winona Kendrick, an advocate for LTA. “I still look at Brazil as a third world country – they’re not very enlightened. They have a very stout religious background and a lack of education; and hate.”

There are not statistics that specifically record violence against transgendered people in Louisiana. However, David Samuels of Capital City Alliance, Parker, and Kendrick all cautioned that does not mean it isn’t happening. NOLA.com broke a story in June about a transgender woman that was enslaved and tortured around Ajax in Natchitoches Parish; each of her three captors was arrested. But law enforcement is still yet to officially track instances of violence against trans people, leaving that work to groups like the LTA. Even then, some still fall through the cracks.

“There have been a few this year,” said Kendrick, who preferred to not go into details. “But there are so many trans people that the LTA doesn’t even know about. They’re treated badly, discriminated against, of course there is violence; but it’s hard to track. So many crimes are committed against the LGBT community, but they’re never reported. I’ve often heard that when they go to the police, they become the problem because they’re gay or trans. It’s victim blaming.”

But Kendrick says that of all the violent incidents around the world and in Louisiana, suicide is still a leading cause of death among trans individuals. During an interview with DIG, Kendrick opened up about her own struggles with realizing her identity and how discovering the LTA essentially saved her life.

“Just like everybody else, I’ve had some really bad emotional times,” she said. “I’ve fought with depression, I’ve even been suicidal a few times, and there are so many people here tonight from LTA that were calling me to see if I was okay. I’ve always had a shoulder. LTA is all about support. So many trans people lose their biological families, but LTA becomes their true family.”

But the LTA holds the view that it’s getting easier for trans people to live without violence or prejudice. Attitudes are changing and minds are opening.

“Over the last five years trans advocacy has just made leaps and bounds in terms of changes in governments, people, and states,” she said. “Polls are showing that people are not against gay marriage or trans people, or whatever. It just seems like a lot of our politics and certain groups want to show that America doesn’t want it, but the average American doesn’t care.”

Kendrick, who is 58, says she, like many people that she works with through LTA, knew all her life she was trans, but repressed it. Two years ago, she came out to herself and the world – then things started to get better for her. All things considered, her story is a best-case scenario for a transgendered woman who decided to be open about her identity.

“I was terrified that I was going to lose all my friends and family,” she said. “All my friends are good ole boys, but I didn’t lose a single one. Most of them have a greater respect for me now because they now know what was causing my problems. I lost my wife, but I still have my kids. And even when I came out at work, the president of the chemical company I worked for called me up and said that they have my back; we’re even working on getting my transitional therapy covered by work insurance.”

Unfortunately, things more often do not go so well for openly trans people. To contact the LTA for support or information, call 225.366.7582, email info@latransadvocates.org, or visit www.latransadvocates.org

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