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Transgender advocates mourn victims, celebrate acceptance

Dustin Parker. Nina Pop. Summer Taylor. Yunieski Carey Harerra.

Slowly and solemnly, the names of transgender people violently slain this year were read Friday evening marking the LGBT Network's annual Transgender Day of Remembrance.

"These victims were all people who have tragically been taken from us due to transphobic violence," said Charlie Solidum, program manager for the LGBT Network's Queens office. "We say their names and respect and honor their memory."

The event, held virtually this year because of the COVID-19 pandemic, spotlights the 37 transgender individuals, and more than 350 worldwide, who were slain in 2020. The event began in 1999 to commemorate the unsolved killing of Rita Hester, a transgender woman in Massachusetts.

"We join together as a community to make sure that the fight for safety, equality and justice continues," said David Kilmnick, president and chief executive of the LGBT Network. "This is a day to come together but it's also a day to realize our work is not nearly done."

On Thursday, the Human Rights Campaign, the nation's largest LGBTQ civil rights organization, released a report that found at least 37 transgender and gender-nonconforming people were killed in 2020 — the most since it began tracking the statistic in 2013.

Since January 2013, the campaign has documented more than 200 transgender and gender-nonconforming people who were victims of fatal violence.

During Friday's event, members of the LGBTQ community shared poems, remembrances and personal stories. They described coming out to family members only to be rejected or being bullied at school. But they also recalled being welcomed by others in the nonbinary community and finding a space where they felt safe and accepted.

Solidum, who uses the he/him pronoun, recalled early on in his transition feeling alone and depressed.

"I remember the first day I walked into a support group and saw just a roomful of 30 trans-masculine people and I thought … 'There are other people like me.' And it's OK to exist as me and who I am," Solidum said.

Chris Torre of Massapequa, who works with LGBTQ youth, said despite the sadness and despair of the day, the future is bright.

"Days like this are very hard but looking to the future, and seeing who is going to come after us, gives me so much hope," said Torre, who uses the they/them pronoun. "And knowing my children are going to come into a world even better than the world I am living in now is what keeps me going."

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo on Friday announced that his Office of Employee Relations released the state's first gender identity tool kit that will serve as a training resource for all state employees to ensure transgender and gender-nonconforming New Yorkers receive nondiscriminatory services. Landmarks across the state Friday were also illuminated in the colors of the transgender flag — pink, white and light blue.

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