Pride a word that recognizes the continued fight for equality within the LGBTQ community. It isn’t all rainbows, the Human Rights Campaign calls violence against transgender and gender non-conforming people an epidemic.
So far this year, 29 trans and gender-nonconforming people have been killed. And the majority are people of color who lived in the south. The stats have more advocates say it’s long overdue for more to be done for all trans lives.
It’s June 5 at Bryant Park in Lake Worth Beach and the Pride Market is promoted as a “fun time for all.”
”I think it’s awesome — I’m out and proud and we need to normalize this because people are people and love is love,” said Irene Murphy, Pride Market attendee.
But look closely. There’s purpose behind these festivities.
”I definitely think Black trans women definitely gave us the footing and did all the hard work and died and literally put the blood sweat and tears in to be able to have the rights that we have today,” said Austin “Oliver Legs” Wayne, Pride Market attendee.
Wayne is talking about the trans women of color who helped ignite the Stonewall Uprising of 1969 and the political and cultural contributions that followed. History that some say should be acknowledged more. And yearlong.
”It would be a lot better if we had our voices heard a lot more than they are now,” said Mary Jayne Petrone, Pride Market attendee. ”They created this. They’re the reason we’re able to be free like this.”
Others also point to education and stigma.
“They’re so much further marginalized than anybody else in the queer community. And I think they’re the most courageous people in this culture because they’re rocking the thing that nobody really wants you to rock — gender,” said Murphy.
And there’s data to support it. So far, this year the Human Rights Campaign has tracked at least 29 transgender or gender non-conforming deaths.
Last year marked the “most violent year,” a total of 44 fatalities tracked. Fatal violence against transgender and gender non-conforming people disproportionately affects transgender women, people of color, people under 35, and people in the south. Like Pahokee native Bee Love Slater, murdered in September 2019, in Clewiston, Florida.
Regularly Wunda Williams lays balloons, macaroons, lights, wood chips, and flowers at Foreverglades Cemetery. Even her nails honor her second child and this is how she keeps his memory alive. But time hasn’t healed the wound it left.
”Just like they put their knee on George Floyd’s neck — and they made them pay, I want the killer to pay too, the way they hurt me,” Williams said. “They destroyed my family. I can never get bee love back. But give me some type of justice.”
Last year on the anniversary of Slater’s death, Sheriff Steve Whidden said detectives had interviewed several hundred people, written and executed over 40 search warrants, and as of this week the investigation into the death of Slater is still active and they’re continuing to follow up on leads. A $10,000 reward is still being offered for information that leads to an arrest.
”I worry night and day that the killer of my son is walking the streets looking in the face of other people. You don’t know who he is or who she is or where they’re at,” Williams said.
This September, Williams’ plans to protest in the streets in honor of Bee Love and she’s demanding the same momentum for trans lives the region witnessed for Blacks lives.
“They need a voice also to be heard in this situation,” Williams said.
But is marching enough? Some say no.
”If we legislated thinking about the people most at the margins — and that’s a Black trans woman. And so if we’re doing that — who gets missed in that? That’s what I say I want our elected officials to be doing. There is an epidemic of violence,” said Nik Harris, attorney, and activist.
Harris said lawmakers on all levels should invest their time and energy into legislation and policies that protect all Americans.
“There are folks who really can’t seem to differentiate what is appropriate and what’s not appropriate and that it has real deadly consequences,” Harris said. “So we shouldn’t have to tell people how not to hate other people. But I say it’s really hard to hate folks up close.”
Harris says The Equality Act which passed in the U.S. House in 2019 but stalled in the Senate would do just that. It would amend current civil rights law by providing explicit anti-discrimination protections for LGBTQ people in employment, housing, health care, education, public spaces, and accommodations.
”This isn’t about ‘well we have a difference of opinion.’ It’s beyond that because we’re talking about folks who lose their lives. So in that, it’s difficult to have a debate where we’re talking about your potential comfort for a ‘problem’ that doesn’t really even exist. verses someone’s life, or livelihood when they’re unable to gain employment when they’re denied access to housing — when they can be kicked out of restaurants,” Harris said.
In the interim, community center’s like Lake Worth’s Compass fills a void offering resources to engage, empower and enrich the lives of all members of the LGBTQ community.
”It’s not a matter of if companies have transgender and non-binary employees working for them but a matter of when. Because it is going to be happening and they need to be ready,” said Julie Seaver, executive director, and CEO at Compass Community Center.
Just this spring the center launched a Transgender Economic Empowerment Program to combat discrimination in employment and housing.
”We need to raise some of our most marginalized community members up to the same level that we’re all at,” Seaver said.
The program offers career placement but also educates the employer.
“There’s still a lot of questions around the trans experience,” Seaver said.
It’s programming that’s leaps ahead of what Compass offered 30 years ago, according to trans activist Velvet Lenore Smith.
”I’m living my life because of Compass,” Smith said.
Smith says Compass advocates and normalizes trans lives 12-months a year and it also empowers the marginalized who need it most. Even a Miss Palm Beach Pride like herself.
”I’m happy. I’m doing what you’re doing,” Smith said. “I’m paying my taxes. I’m paying my bills. I have a wonderful husband. I have a wonderful home — just let me live. I shouldn’t to have to go out and always feel like I have to protect myself.”
Smith also has advice for anyone struggling with their own identity.
”My solution is more visibility and education,” Smith said.
Visibly and education that isn’t regulated to one month.
”Pride isn’t just a party. It’s always been a party with a purpose,” Seaver said.
To learn more about Compass’ Transgender Economic Empowerment Program, click here.