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Against violence and forgetting: Transgender Day of Remembrance observed in the Phl

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Attendees remember all those who have lost their lives to hate, and pledge to continue fighting for equality. UP Babaylan

The Transgender Day of Remembrance (TDoR) was observed in the Philippines by several advocacy groups and academic institutions on 20 November 2019. An annual and international observance, TDoR memorializes transgender people who died because of gender-related violence and hatred. It was sparked by the murder of a black transgender woman, Rita Hester, on 28 November 1998, which inspired the “Remembering Our Dead” web project and a candlelight vigil in San Francisco in the United States in 1999. Aside from honoring the memories of trans persons who lost their lives, TDoR also aims to generate wider awareness on the discrimination and violence experienced by transgender people; to promote education and compassion; and to fight hatred and apathy.

The TDoR Vigil was organized by University of the Philippines (UP) Babaylan, Pioneer Filipino Transgender Men Movement, University of the Philippines Center for Women’s and Gender Studies (UPCWGS) and Asia Pacific Transgender Network (APTN) at the UPCWGS grounds of the University of the Philippines, Diliman, Quezon City, to commemorate trans lives lost to anti-transgender violence.

“We are raising awareness on hate crimes against trans persons and gender diverse persons,” said Slac Cayamanda of Pioneer FTM.

Bilang mga advocates, bilang miyembro ng LGBTQIA (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, intersex and asexual) sa Filipinas, bilang mga ally ng trans community, sana ay tulong-tulong tayo at sama-sama tayong gawing thing of the past ang TDoR dahil 20 taon na ng global trans genocide ang nangyayari at… hindi bumababa ang bilang ng mga trans people na pinapatay taon-taon. Bagkus ito ay umaakyat at dumadami. Sa 2019, ito yata ang isa sa pinakamaraming trans people ang pinatay. Mayroon tayo sa talaan na 331 trans people ang pinatay ngayong taon (As advocates, LGBTQIA and allies, I hope that we help each other to make TDoR a thing of the past because it has been 20 years that the global trans genocide is happening… and the number of trans people killed yearly is not diminishing. Instead, the number is rising. 2019 is perhaps one of the years with the most number of trans people murdered. Our record shows 331 trans people killed this year),” Naomi Fontanas of Lagablab LGBT Network said. “Ang kalaban natin ay ang systemic at structural na karahasan na dinadanas ng marami sa atin sa lipunan dahil tayo ay iniisip na naiiba sa mas nakakarami… Sana ay kapit-bisig tayo para sa 2020, wala nang taong trans na papatayin na ganito kabrutal sa ating pamayanan (Our enemy is the systemic and structural violence experienced by many of us in society because we are perceived as different from the majority… I hope we join hands so that in 2020 there are no more trans persons being murdered so brutally in our society).”

Groups held a vigil for Transgender Day of Remembrance. Xavier Javines Bilon

The event included a panel discussion on violence against transgender persons, how to be an ally to trans persons and other issues. Guest speakers included Rey Valmores-Salinas of Bahaghari Metro Manila, Elyon Divina of PioneerFTM, Amber Quiban of Philippine Anti-Discrimination Alliance of Youth Leaders (PANTAY), Disney Aguila and MJ Señodoza of Deaf Rainbow Philippines, and Venus Evangelista of UP Babaylan.

“Simply put, violence is an act of deliberate intention of putting harm or causing harm to other people,” Quiban explained. “These kinds of harm may be in subtle means, like poliicies. These are legitimate means of enforcing violence. But sometimes, violence is manifested in more active means such as acts of hurting other people, directed attempts at hurting people. Generally, I think violence is a systemic concept having to do with exclusion, having to do with the removal of rights, and having to do with denial of humanity.”

Valmores-Salinas said, “I think violence doesn’t necessarily have to be deliberate. Sometimes and I think more often than not, we don’t realize that we are part of a system that exerts violence on others.

I think, obviously, violence comes in many forms. It can be physical violence, sexual violence. It can be economic violence as well. It also includes things that involve policy, directly impacting people in a ‘legitimate’ manner. Gender violence is essentially violence that targets you by virtue of your gender identity. Given the kind of culture that we have, hetero, patriarchal culture that we have, gender violence is typical to something that specifically puts a greater risk to women and members of the LGBT.”

(from left): Elyon Divina of PioneerFTM, Amber Quiban of PANTAY and Venus Evangelista of UP Babaylan. Xavier Javines Bilon

“Sometimes the most egregious forms of violence are those that are subtle, those that are not directly or obviously seen or manifested such as exclusion…policies, rules, or laws that can harm others, especially trans individuals,” Evangelista added.

Quiban related: “As someone nakaranas ng lahat ng forms of violence (As someone who has experienced all those forms of violence)… I have experienced economic violence. I was disowned by my family because I was trans. I was outed as trans by other people without my intention of coming out as trans woman. I also experienced psychological violence because of the bullying I experienced since elementary. I’ve also experienced sexual violence. I was actually molested by one of the priests in my province when I was younger. And I also experienced physical violence. I don’t think that we have to weigh in what kind of violence weighs more to trans people or creates the most impact to trans peoples because I think all of these kinds of violence would weigh the same way. It causes you to doubt your humanity, doubt your existence, worth as a human being… Lives are lost with these kinds of violence. When you kick an LGBT child, a trans child out of your house, you are basically exposing them to the dangers of the streets. They might be killed on the streets because some person would do harm on them. When there is sexual violence, that leads to psychological effects. When you do psychological violence, you lead that person into more troubles with themselves.”

Divina explained: “Sa konteksto ng kulturang Filipino, ang violence ay nag-uugat from hate. Hate nanggagaling siya from fear. Ang fear nanggagaling siya sa hindi pagintindi ng isang konsepto or ng isang realidad. Sa Filipinas kasi na patriarchal society tayo, sa murang edad pa lang, specifically ng mga trans people, dahil hindi umaayon ang trans people sa kung ano ‘yung black and white na dinidikta ng society, doon nagkakaroon ng problema kahit sa loob pa lang ng bahay ‘yung pagtanggap ng pamilya, ‘yung pagtanggap ng institusyon (In the context of Filipino culture, violence stems from hate. Hate comes from fear. Fear comes lack of understanding of a concept or reality. In the Philippines, where we have a patriarchal society, we start young, specifically for trans people. Because trans people do not conform to the black and white dictates of the society, problems arise in the family, in the institutions, concerning acceptance).”

Naomi Fontanas of Lagablab LGBT Network. UP Babaylan

LGBTQ+ people have experienced too much and constant violence. Evangelista related that violence is so “engraved” into LGBTQ+ lives that it is normal, from the home to the mainstream media, and she came to expect it everyday. Divina said that the LGBTQ+ are made to think that violence comes with living as LGBTQ+. Panelists agreed that it stems from the culture. Divina added that the fear of the unknown and refusal to learn are also roots of the problem. They also pointed out the lack of laws that can protect them. Identifying and acknowledging the sector is of recent development.

“What we’re dealing with is not just the lack of policies. It’s also the culture that has been so ingrained in us,” said Valmores-Salinas. She also called out even members of the LGBTQ+, especially during the Gretchen Diez incident which, although drawing overwhelming support for Diez,  also took some backlash from several LGBTQ+ members

“Even though all of us are part of this marginalized group, even though all of us are oppressed by the system, some of us are comfortable enough to be able to say that this is not a real issue for me, that this is not something that really concerns me. This conversation about the way that trans people themselves are the people who perpetuate this kind of violence is also a matter of intersectionality. It’s also a matter of how some people even though they are oppressed are privileged, in some ways, so they can feel that  this is a non issue for them, that this is something they can live with anyway,” she said.

Speakers enumerated several strategies in combating cisgender sexism and heterosexism, which spur violence. Divina said that we have to stop thinking in binaries, that LGBT is the opposite of straight, and to check your privilege in action and words. Quiban said that there is need to call out transphobia and to adequately educate as many people as we can. Evangelista said trans narratives and experiences must be widely shared and made known. Valmores-Salinas espoused militant action and going back to the streets and to the grassroots.

The need for pushing for legislation was also discussed. Right now, the SOGIE (sexual orientation and gender identity expression) Equality Bill remains one major proposed piece of legislation that concerns the LGBTQ+. Quiban informed audience that the bill was formulated after dialogues with people from the margins and, while affirming its importance, is not meant to be the sole response to the problem.

“The SOGIE Equality Bill does not promise to end all forms of discrimination; it aims to maximize the fight against discrimination on the basis of SOGIE. Because legislation cannot cover all of the issues of every person… The SOGIE Equality Bill, while in the best intentions and in its best version, technically speaking, at least in what it wants to achieve, needs supplementary legislation, needs supplementary activities and mobilizations for it to achieve its full effect… I think we’re putting so much burden on the SOGIE Equality Bill, when in fact it only aims to do or carve something to pave the way for greater movement for non-discrimination,” she said.

Divina emphasized the power of the individual to make changes. “Kung kaya mong mang-educate ng tao, kahit isang tao lang about LGBTQ+ rights and issues, panalo ka na doon (If you can educate people, even one person about LGBTQ+ rights and issues, we achieved something),” he said.

Evangelista believed that the understanding of human rights should be our framework if we want to change the system and empathy plays an important role.

Many trans people are making ways to ameliorate the situation. One is organization. Quiban said, “We continually teach people how to organize… We have to recognize that our organizations are our safe havens. We should ensure that our organizations are places wherein we can collaborate, share experiences and feel like we’re not alone, because we are surrounded supposedly by people who understand us. So the grounding of an organization is very, very important to progress, to protecting one another.”

The speakers emphasized the observance of TDoR.

“I don’t think that TDoR should be a thing of the past at any point of our lives. I think that TDoR should remain relevant until forever because we have to always remember the struggles and the fights that were fought by the trans people who came before us,” Quiban said. “I don’t think that will ever be a thing of the past because as long as we remember the people who have lost their lives to violence, to senseless violence, to this system that corrupts us all, we will always be reminded, because in forgetting, we are bound to commit the same mistakes. We see this now in the context of the Philippines. We forget. That’s why we make the same mistakes. So, I hope that the TDoR will not be a thing of the past. Otherwise, more deaths will come again because we fail to remember that the right to life is the right we all fought for.”

Valmores-Salinas fully agreed: “If we achieve equality… I think that there has to be a reminder of how we got here, of how the people who came before us fought such a hard battle, such a long battle and how our rights are really the result of those battles, and that we enjoy all of these comforts because of these persistent fights. It’s always necessary for any movement to have a reminder for how they started and how they were able to progress from where they originated. There is a reason people say that the Stonewall Riots was the first Pride march, even though there were many separate attempts to organize in the past. The reason that it is recognized and it is still remembered is that it was the Stonewall riots that ultimately broke the window, so to speak. There had been knocks before but it still was the Stonewall riots that finally collapsed the window and people started talking about it at the international level. So there always has to be that reminder: How did you get here? How did you come to have an LGBT movement? And it is because of the sacrifices of those people who came before us. It is because of collective action that got us to where we are now. And that’s something that would apply to many struggles, whatever those struggles would be in the future.”

“For the longest time, there is always something that pushes trans people to be invisible,” Divina commented. “We are always fighting against our erasure. In a way, this (TDoR) is a stand. It is can be seen as our defiance. No matter how we are swept under the rug and invalidate our existence, we are here, we remember our dead, we will not stop until we get the rights that we really have.”

A highlight of the event was a moving candle-lighting ceremony during which the names of trans people from all over the world were mentioned and remembered. Otherwise forgotten, these trans persons were murdered from Novermber 2018 to Novermber 2019.

According to the Trans Murder Monitoring research project, 331 killings of trans and gender-diverse people were reported worldwide from 1 October 2018 and 30 September 2019. This brings the total number of reported cases since 2008 to 3,314. Estimating the actual number of murdered trans people is impossible.

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