The County Administration Building lit up in blue and pink for the transgender flag during a vigil held on Saturday, Nov. 20 in honor of the at least 47 transgender people murdered in the past year. The number has risen to at least 48 trans people since then, according to Human Rights Watch, marking it as the most deadly year on record with still a month to go.
The Trans Day of Remembrance event was hosted by the LGBT Center with partners including San Diego Pride. The majority of the speakers were members of San Diego’s trans community although a special effort was made to highlight the voices of government leaders amid a rash of anti-trans legislation passed in other states.
San Diego’s first gay mayor Todd Gloria said “We will continue to fight for a more equitable and safer San Diego for all of us. I want to say that as mayor of the city, I want you to know that I see you. I acknowledge you. I’m not only aware of you, I’m here to celebrate you. All of you are important parts of the city. We would not be America’s finest city without our transgender gender non-binary members.”
Councilmember Stephen Whitburn highlighted his work 20 years ago in passing the human dignity ordinance to protect trans people and more recently declaring Nov. 20 as Trans Day of Remembrance in District 3.
“It’s one thing to fight discrimination. It’s another to fight prejudice,” Whitburn said. “We have so much work to do.”
At least nine of the bills that passed nationally targeted trans youth to either bar them from extracurricular sports or gender-affirming healthcare. Amid the crowd of at least 100, dozens of trans youth were present. Among the 47 people whose names were read alongside a projection of their photo, two trans boys were under the age of 18 when they were murdered.
As in past years, a special effort was made to honor Black trans women who are killed at disproportionate rates. According to Human Rights Watch, transgender women are four times more likely to be murdered than cisgender women.
The event commemorated people across the nation while also highlighting issues closer to home, including trans man Poe Black who was stabbed to death and left in the Coachella Canal in Slab City. Evidence related to his murder is still waiting to be processed at a San Diego lab, according to LGBTQ Nation. Activists say his life on the margins as a homeless trans person living in an alternative community has led to his murder case being a low priority for the Imperial County Sheriff.
Meanwhile, San Diego Sheriff Bill Gore and the county is being sued by transgender woman Kristina Frost who was jailed with several men, one of whom allegedly beat her, despite her updated ID listing her as female.
Publicly, Gore supports transgender rights and he was the final vote at the Leon L. Williams San Diego County Human Relations Committee that helped co-sign a letter with the city’s commission that condemned transphobia and encouraged public officials to speak out for trans people.
The joint letter was presented at the event. Getting the letter passed was a challenge as the volunteer county board of 24 seated members needed 18 votes to pass it ahead of the vigil. Initially two people abstained, including a representative sitting in for Gore while he was out of town. After the representative abstained, Gore was contacted directly and he said over text that he would vote in favor of it. Amid the kerfuffle to get it passed, commissioner Dennis Hodges was asked why he abstained. In answer, the local pastor said that “transgenders” are an “abomination” in the eyes of God.
Over the Zoom meeting, there was an audible gasp in response to his remarks on a commission meant to promote human rights and dignity. One of the transgender commissioners was visibly crying and Nicole Murray-Ramirez called Hodges out for the grief he had caused to two of the commissioners who sit on the board with him.
At the vigil, commissioner Julia Legaspi said it was the first time in 40 years as an LGBTQ+ activist that someone had called her an abomination to her face and she still gets emotional recalling it.
“I have had shares of discrimination,” she said. “I didn’t expect it from a fellow commissioner on the human rights commission.”
Following the incident, Hodges sent a letter to chair Ellen Nash doubling down on his previous comments, saying “when men and women embrace obviously other-gendered expressions of identity it is a disgrace.”
Led by Center CEO Cara Dessert, the LGBT+ members of the commission sent a letter to all of the county supervisors calling for his immediate resignation.
The letter concludes “While we believe in Commissioner Hodges’ right to vote how he chooses, his right to free speech, and to freedom of religion, his persistent discriminatory and hateful comments are simply antithetical to the mission of this Commission and disqualifying of his appointed position.”
Due to the Thanksgiving holiday and an annual conference, the supervisors have not held a meeting since the letter was sent.
Kendra Sitton can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.