By Terry Thornton
Deputy Press Secretary, CDCR
CDCR staff and administrators joined incarcerated people and invited guests in the Catholic Chapel at San Quentin State Prison for the first-ever Transgender Day of Remembrance on Nov. 20. The event, emceed by Lisa Strawn, included prayers, songs, poetry and music. This was the first time such an event has been held in a California state prison.
“The support for the transgender community from the non-trans inmate population and from staff makes me believe that as an agency, we are moving in the right direction when it comes to providing our trans-identified population a safe, professional environment perfect for rehabilitation,” said Amy Miller, associate director for CDCR’s Female Offender Programs and Services/Special Housing.
The Transgender Day of Remembrance is an annual observance held on Nov. 20 that honors the memory of transgender people who were fatal victims of violence. It was started in 1999 by Gwendolyn Ann Smith to memorialize the 1998 murder of Rita Hester, a transgender African-American woman, in Allston, Massachusetts. Since then, hundreds of cities in numerous countries hold Transgender Day of Remembrance observances.
“Listen with your hearts and not your ears,” said Thanh Tran before performing “What is Freedom,” original spoken word.
Nana Reed and James Villa read the names of the 22 transgender people who were murdered in the past year and lit a candle for each name.
Research shows that transgender and gender non-conforming people are at greater risk of violence and abuse both inside and outside of jails and prisons. Transgender women of color are also disproportionately affected by fatal violence.
“Violence affects everyone,” said Danika McKiernan as she spoke about tolerance and the need to end violence against transgender people. “No one is more vulnerable than a transgender person. People are being murdered, because of who they are.”
State Senator Scott Wiener also attended the event and noted in his newsletter that “violence against the trans community is at epidemic levels, and trans women of color, in particular, are being brutally victimized. Much work remains to ensure full equality, inclusion, and safety for our transgender community members.”
“Hatred will never heal hatred,” said Andrew “Boots” Hardy. Hardy, lead vocalist and guitarist with the Quentin Blues Band, also performed a song he wrote called “Letting Go.”
San Quentin’s observance culminated in a special closing performance in which inmates held signs reading “Black trans lives matter” and “End Violence!” Members of the trans community at San Quentin held signs reading “Remember Me.”
“What the women of San Quentin put together was remarkable and emotional, and I am so proud of the hard work they did to make this event happen. Seeing their dedication, and the support of the rest of the incarcerated people and staff who attended was inspirational,” said Kris Applegate, assistant Secretary for CDCR’s Office of Legislation.
Juan Haines with the San Quentin News contributed to this report.