LGBTQ Coalition honors transgender victims, educates students

Published On:
Friday, November 20, 2009
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A black sign read, “Gabriela Alejandra Albornoz, age 16 — stabbed repeatedly, gang raped by two teenagers, Date of Death: December 2007.”

Another read, “Fedra, thrown from a building into an alleyway and run down by a car, Date of Death: July 2007.”

Fedra and Albornoz’s stories were just a few of the 21 displayed on the north stage of the Memorial Union as part of Transgender Day of Remembrance, an event hosted Thursday by ASU’s Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Queer (LGBTQ) Coalition.

Sarah Murray, a creative writing sophomore and administrator for the LGBTQ coalition, said the event was designed to educate people about violence against transgender individuals, but also served as a way to remember and honor victims of hate crimes against transgender people.

“We’re commemorating all of those who have been victims of transgender hate crimes and have died as a result of that violence,” Murray said.
“Our goal, while it is awareness, is most[ly] to remember our dead,” she said. “To remember those who have died and say that we’re not forgetting them … So it’s a way to say, ‘We’re not forgetting you, you were very real, you had a life, you lived, you loved, you laughed and we remember you.’ ”

The LGBTQ members donned black clothing in respect for the dead victims of hate crimes but distributed white armbands and black ribbons to passing students.

“The white is a contrast to that black; it’s symbol of hope and support,” Murray said.

The signs were an effective way to convey the message to ASU students, she said.

“If people see the result of transgender violence, then they may come to understand just how tragic it is,” Murray said.

The signs were enough to draw the attention of several students, including Krystle Middleton, elementary and special education senior, who said she was drawn to the display, but many other students might not be impacted by the event and require something more dramatic to have a real impact on them.

“You have one picture for each person who passed away with the date clearly on it, just recently too. I think this is a good way to represent that,” Middleton said.

Murray said many people are unaware of what it means to be transgender and answered questions about transgenders.

“Transgender has to do with someone’s gender identity,” Murray said. “It’s mostly when a person feels that their body does not reflect who they are.”

Most of people’s misunderstanding of transgenders comes from the media, she said.

“Very often in the news, people that are victims are not reported as trans[gender]. Their pronouns — he versus she —are misused,” Murray said. “And they are commonly referred to as gay, and some transgender people are gay but some of them aren’t. Actually, the vast majority of trans people are straight.”

Emma Corman, a women and gender studies senior and executive board member of LGBTQ coalition, said part of the negative attitude toward transgender individuals is due to people’s fear of breaking socially-set boundaries.

“A person who can become a woman from a male body is kind of scary, right? I mean, it’s breaking that binary of male and female, that you have to be one or the other and you’re born that way,” Corman said.

“People like to keep you … in your own little box. A lot of people feel uncomfortable challenging their own gender and their own masculinity or femininity and transgender people really do challenge that; just by their existence, trans people challenge the masculine- feminine binary.”

Corman said this was an important event for LGBTQ to be involved with because the transgender members are often underrepresented.

“Transgender people are often invisible because a trans man or a trans woman might look like they are cross dressing or be perceived as gay or lesbian, not trans,” Corman said.

Murray added that even within the LGBTQ community, transgenders can sometimes be overlooked, and through this event, members attempted to acknowledge the group’s transgender members.

“We call it ‘visiblizing’ the “T” in the LGBTQ, because a lot of [the] time it’s overshadowed by the other letters,” Murray said.

Fred Hiller, 39, was on campus and stopped to read the signs detailing the violence against transgender individuals.

Hiller said he personally connected with the message about hate crimes against transgenders because of his personal experiences as someone who participated in victimizing gay individuals.

“Through high school I hung out with a group of people that was basically violent in nature, and somehow that violence ended up being turned toward gays, and I never felt any kind of particular feeling one way or the other, but in a couple of different instances [I] was with this group of friends and we portrayed acts of violence toward gays,” he said.

A year later, he said he was unexpectedly confronted by a former victim.

“Through a strange series of events, a year or two after these events took place, I was at a dinner party and sat down at the dinner table with a group of individuals in the jewelry industry, and probably three-quarters of the table of 16 people or so was gay, and about halfway through our main course, one of the people at the table recognized me as someone who had attacked him a year earlier,” Hiller said.

After the dinner party, Hiller said the man contacted him and the two got together to have lunch.

“It was a pretty odd situation, to go and sit down and have a meal with someone that you had portrayed an act of violence on, for no reason,” he said, adding that he walked away from that lunch with a new understanding of the implications of his past actions.

“I had a conversation with that person, and I don’t want to say they changed my views because I never really had any kind of negative opinion … but sitting down and having that conversation and that meal with that person really enlightened me about what I was doing,” Hiller said. “I had no idea what I was doing. I was following my friends, or my so-called friends.”

Ignorance was mostly to blame, he said, for the common negative feeling toward people who are transgender.

“It’s part of basic human nature. People dislike what they don’t understand or know about,” Hiller said.

Reach the reporter at michelle.parks@asu.edu