This year, as Transgender Day of Remembrance approached, I sat scrolling through Facebook posts, listening to music, and wondering how I got to where I am today. Seven years ago I was just another trans woman wanting to live my life authentically and as stealthily as possible. How did I become an accidental activist?
I say “accidental” because I have stumbled into a role that I always thought was so far from who I was. I had no idea a year and a half ago when I protested the Texas bathroom bill at a book signing by Gov. Greg Abbott that one day I would be organizing trans rights rallies and be a vocal and very out advocate for the transgender community. When I became a founding member and board president of our local PFLAG chapter, I believed that would be the extent of my involvement in helping the LGBTQ+ community. Little did I know that was all about to change.
On the evening of October 23, I heard from a friend that a member of our community had been murdered. I searched all the local news outlets to find the story but was unsuccessful in finding one. I reached out to a friend at the local paper to see if she could help, and two days later she sent me a link to an article about a “man in a dress wearing makeup” whohad been shot to death on October 21. I immediately contacted the reporter who had written the article to see if we could have her name and gender corrected so Stephanie Montez could be shown the dignity and respect that she deserved.
I then contacted GLAAD and the Human Rights Campaign to have Stephanie added to their lists of trans individuals whohave been killed this year and recognized on Transgender Day of Remembrance. I worked with GLAAD to help correct additional local media coverage and kept that national media advocacy organization in the know about developments in Stephanie’s death, including arrests in her case. I watched as across the country, national media outlets began covering Stephanie’s death respectfully and accurately as a result of my local advocacy.
Stephanie Montez was the 22nd known trans person killed in the U.S. in 2017 and, like at least 18 others, she was initially misgendered and deadnamed in the media and by police. This is an all too frequent occurrence and hampers accurate accounting of transgender individuals impacted by anti-transgender hate and violence. We now have 24 known murders of transgender people putting us in the position of 2017 possibly being the most deadly year for our community. Of these 24 individuals, 21 were women and 95 percent were women of color.
After the news of Ally Lee Steinfeld’s murder on September 21, the sheer brutality of it angered me, and I started talking with other local advocates about holding a rally to bring attention to the violence faced by the trans community. With the news of Stephanie’s death, I felt an added sense of urgency to do something, so I immediately contacted allies and members of our local trans community and we set a date of November 4 to hold our rally.
The intent of our rally became one of honoring Stephanie’s memory as well as to call for legislative changes to the Texas laws on hate crimes and discrimination, as gender identity is not included in those laws. We reached out to local faith leaders, members of the local LGBTQ+ community, and Lou Weaver of Equality Texas to speak at the rally as well as inviting the local news media to attend and help get our message out to the public. I was very pleased with the response from our community and those whomade impromptu speeches. We even had a counte protester, which actually thrilled me, because I saw that as a sign we were being heard.
The work doesn’t end there, though. We are discussing future events to raise awareness of anti-transgender violence and discrimination. At the time of this writing I am working on a memorial service and vigil for Transgender Day of Remembrance with the help of Corpus Christi Solidarity Network, Coastal Bend Trans Alliance, PFLAG Corpus Christi, and the local Unitarian Universalist Church.
We will be honoring the lives of all trans individuals who have lost their lives with a special emphasis on Stephanie Montez. We are planning for several speakers as well as local musicians to play at the memorial service. After the service we will regroup at a location still to be determined for a vigil. It may have been an accidental path, but I know now that I am an activist for sure.