Candlelit Goodbye: The Vigil for Tyra Trent
Candlelit Goodbye: The Vigil for Tyra Trent
On Friday evening, March 4th, 2011, a group of around fifty-to-sixty family, friends, allies, and activists gathered on the corner of North Avenue and Charles Street to say goodbye to the late Tyra Trent.
Tyra's body was found in an abandoned house on February 19th, 2011, in Northwest Baltimore on the 3300 block of Virginia Avenue. She had been asphyxiated. Nothing else has been released about the situation, though authorities assure that they are looking into it.
Tyra was twenty-five years old. She was working to obtain her GED. Those who knew and loved her recount of her infectious positive energy and genuine good-heartedness.
Far from the sum of her, Tyra was also transgendered. Born Anthony Trent, Tyra was her identity.
Radio Segment from the Vigil:
Sandy Rawls, the founder and director of Trans-United, an organization that works to fight for the health, safety, community, rights, and justices of Baltimore's transgendered community, organized Friday's vigil. Sandy Rawls, an amazing woman full of courage and strength,stands as a powerhouse that works tirelessly to demand rights, respect, and humanity for those within her community.
She said that the vigil was dually meant to say goodbye and to remember the life and spirit of Tyra; as well as send a profound message that there are people who loved her. And that those who loved and choose to remember, gathered to celebrate her life. Furthermore, that as a diverse collection of individuals, we are immensely devastated and affected by the pervasive and recurring violence against the transgendered community.
In 2009, the Trans Monitoring Project released a report announcing that an estimated every third day, the murder of a trans-person is internationally reported. This staggering figure is markedly not a correct assessment of how many are lost. Many trans-individuals' deaths are not reported due to ignorance, arrogance, and hatred. Many trans-individuals' deaths are incorrectly reported rooted in the similar veins and/or from lack of identity education. Reports are often filed under the individual's scientifically deemed biological body rather than who their actuality. There is no exact number known. Yet, in looking at a two-year-old statistic, that estimates a reported trans-person’s death every third day, the hard data is a tragically and massively under-discussed outrage. There are no words to encapsulate the reality of the unknown real number of those loved and lost from hatred and fear.
At the beginning of the vigil, Sandy Rawls rendered a rallying cry. She challenged us to come together- with renewed steely resolve, to work harder in bringing unwavering equality, regardless of visible or inward identities and/or markings. Along with the crowd of family and friends, allies and activists gathered with many similar notions.
The night’s ceremonial call was undoubtedly that we must accept our communities, no matter who we are and where we come from.
In attendance, Denise LeClair, Executive Director of the International Foundation for Gender Education stated, “I'm out here to remember Tyra because she's just another one of our members of our community that have been senselessly killed. And I've been to so many of these over the last eleven years. And I've been doing this work and it breaks my heart every time. There's so little that's done against the violence against us.And so little that's done against the discrimination against the transgendered community. And it's an outrage. It's one of the few populations where it's just considered okay to discriminate. We're considered to be less than people.”
We can make guesses as to why it is still so hard for the everyperson to accept the trans community. People aren’t comfortable with that which shakes the safe little bubbles that they construct within and around themselves. Finding worthy pins to go-a-bubble-bursting is essential in order to create true safety for across-the-spectrum humanity.
Local gender justice rabblerouser and queer performer Abby Neyenhouse, a.k.a. Eddie Adonis of Charm City Boys, discussed the importance of LGBQ folks standing in solidarity with their transgendered and transsexual family. Abby, or rather Eddie, discussed the growing sentiment, that in the traditional lesbian and gay race for equality and acceptance, we have often overlooked the trans members of our LGBTQ communities. Eddie states that it is obvious that in our queer communities we value difference. If we say that we value difference – we must value ALL difference. As lesbian, gay, and bisexual folks garner more visibility and acceptance we must not disassociate ourselves from the trans community. We must not yearn for the mainstream at the loss of someone else's rights. The realities of the uphill battle for trans’ rights are unknown. However, with the extreme denial of the communities' most basic rights and innate humanity, it is high time to start the climb. LGBTQ is an acronym bound together by coinage- in reality, let’s stay fight together. Let’s stay together.
Many, like Eddie, came to obviously remember a young woman's life that was tragically lost. But, we have to move forward in effort towards an end to this kind of prevalent brutality. And Eddie enumerated the night's charge for across-communities solidarity.All allies are needed to take up the cry. However, it is particularly dire for LGBTQ folks to not forget...we fight for one equality. Not categorical acceptance. If we don’t even stand together in the same anti-marginalization battle, we will never achieve one world without gender violence or discrimination.
Those fighting gender-based inequalities wage two separate legal battles today, Wednesday, March 9th, 2011, in Maryland. At 10 am this morning, debate on the highly-publicized same-sex marriage bill was expected to begin in the Maryland House of Delegates. With a day-long postponement from yesterday’s expected debate-beginning, speculators believe that the debate should last from Wednesday morning until a planned Friday, March 11th, vote. The bill has already cleared the Senate and if the House passes it, it will be sent directly to Governor Martin O’Mailey (D) who has promised his signatorial approval.
Currently there is no clear victor and many proponents of the bill worry that opponents may try to make last-minute changes to the bill.Changes could eventuate a death sentence to the bill’s passage prospects, as the Senate warns that they may not have the energy or time to review any amendments.
The bill, known as the Civil Marriage Protection Act, would change the state’s legal definition of marriage as solely between a man and a woman. Religious organizations would not have to perform same-sex marriages if against their beliefs. However, in the eyes of the law, same-sex unions would finally be deemed as valid as normed hetero-marriage.
Whatever your beliefs on the institution of marriage, equal legal rights do help further one aspect of the path towards equality.
Currently Equality MD is working to pass statewide legislation that would make it illegal to discriminate against people based on their gender identity or expression in areas of employment and housing- which also includes homeless shelters, and also the area of credit.
-Owen Smith (member of Equality Maryland and avid advocate for transgender rights)
The lesser known gender-based injustice legal battle in process lies in regards to The Gender Identity Anti-Discrimination Bill, House Bill 235.
Currently there is no anti-discrimination protection for transgendered individuals under Maryland law. One in five transgendered Marylanders have lost their jobs due to gender-based discrimination.
(Borrowed from The Equality Maryland website)
From the 2009 National Transgender Discrimination Survey - Key Findings by the National Center for Transgender Equality and the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force:
- Double the rate of unemployment: Survey respondents experience unemployment at twice the rate of the population as a whole.
- Near universal harassment on the job: Ninety-seven percent (97%) of those surveyed reported experiencing harassment or mistreatment on the job.
- Significant losses of jobs and careers: Forty-seven percent (47%) had experienced an adverse job outcome, such as being fired, not hired or denied a promotion.
- High rates of poverty: Fifteen percent (15%) of transgender people in our sample lived on $10,000 per year or less - double the rate of the general population.
- Significant housing instability: Nineteen percent (19%) of our sample have been or are homeless, 11% have faced eviction and 26% were forced to seek temporary space.
Equality Maryland, Maryland’s largest LGBT civil rights organization, along with other LGBTQ organizations and allies, filed to advance the bill’s protection for all people, regardless of gender identity. Specifically directed to prohibit discrimination against gender-variant citizens. The bill is unsurprisingly controversial, but not just for the obvious outside norm reasons. In its current form, the bill provides some housing and employment protections but not other deemed necessary ones, such as public accommodations (gender-neutral bathrooms, etc.). Some organizations are fighting for the bill to be struck if it doesn’t contain specific language that prohibits discrimination/harassment of transgendered individuals.
Today, Wednesday, March 9th, 2011, at 1pm, a hearing on the bill is scheduled to take place in Annapolis. Equality Maryland has called for attendance in support of the bill- as well as those willing to testify. Employed together, Equality Maryland strives to add ‘vital protections’ to the bill for those it hopes to serve.
For many, Tyra’s death sounds the importance of this legislation. In fact, there is the growing sentiment to rename the bill The Tyra Trent Bill. The move is not meant to profit off the tragedy but rather as a gesture towards the tragic struggle that nonconforming gender individuals face daily.
There are way too often experiences in this community where trans-people are absolutely ignored or attacked or ultimately may even face a very sad and lonely death because of who they are and unfortunately I think our community often overlooks this population. And it’s something that very dear friends of mine actually end up suffering on a daily basis. Including not being able to use bathrooms, not being able to have safe spaces, have a home, being able to be kicked out of their homes or their jobs ‘cause of who they are...
There seems to be little to no movement from the authorities on unravelling Tyra’s case.
In an interview with ABC News, two of Tyra’s friends decry the slow investigation as being due to authorities apathetic nature towards trans-people and their struggles.
Don’t just give us lip service- give us opportunity.
In discussion with trans-individuals at the vigil, it became clear. We need to be accountable to what we say. If we say we’re allies, we need to walk the walk.
It becomes ever clearer that those affected by gender-based violence, together chain in struggle for our spaces, our safety, and our lives.
Jacqueline Robarge, from Power Inside,a local organization that serves women affected by incarceration, sex work, and abuse, stated, “There’s nothing that can be said to heal us from this. But we stand with you. And we wish we’d stop getting together like this.”
Let’s work to stop getting together like this.
In a pulpit-like experience, those gathered worshiped at the hope of change and wept over what yet has not. A local reverend called us to remember, that while we just celebrated Black History Month in February, violence still enslaves our streets. Injustice and inequity are still pervading our realities. While the great -isms of the history are far, far, far, far from eradicated, gender and sexuality based injustice could arguably be one of the most prominent frontiers that the now-of-age generation takes up in the ever necessary endeavor for social justice.
This moment: LGBTQ folks and allies creating a much more just (and fluid!) future.
As the humanity driven sermon held on, the crowd clutched white candles and sang for Tyra. And for each other. And for ourselves.
As the event ended many walked around hugging one another, whether having ever met or not.
Most walked up and wrapped Tyra’s mother, Sundra Trent, in their arms.
I’m just glad that the turnout was so big and there was so many different types of people. It’s really heartwarming and really speaks volumes to where Baltimore is as a community and how we’re going stand-up against systems of oppression.
- Owen Smith
The sermon sang that change will not come without voices. But, we must raise them and believe that hate can be turned into love.
Segregation can be turned into integration.
Rejection can be turned into acceptance.
We can build a society that is mutually shaped to secure all of us.
We can accept each other regardless of who we are and where we come from.
We can say that you are important to me and that I need you to survive.
Amen chanted the crowd in human rights dictum.
The fight for justice and equality will wage on.
The Charles Village gathered crowd sang songs about friendship while waving candles in the evening’s late winter chill, and promised to not forget.
Goodbye Sister Tyra.
Article By: Corey Reidy
Radio Piece By: Clayton Conn
Interviews Conducted By: Clayton Conn and Sine Hwang Jensen
Corey Reidy has been an Indyreader collective member since the start of 2009. And.. she adores it with all her heart. When Reidy isn't editing, writing, interviewing, or other Indyreader-centric organizing, she works to do other forms of radical activism -- including, but not limited to, organizing/being a board member of Hollaback! Baltimore. If she's not organizing, Reidy is most likely reading, biking, or practicing/studying yoga (of which she adores and will 100% go to bat to defend and promote).