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Utah’s transgender community remembers those lost, looks ahead to better future

SHARE Utah’s transgender community remembers those lost, looks ahead to better future
Tami Porter-Jones and Jolene Abbott at the Utah Pride Center.

Tami Porter-Jones and Jolene Abbott at the Utah Pride Center.

Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

WEST VALLEY CITY — Honoring those lost over the past year, Utah's transgender community gathered Wednesday night to give voice to those who no longer have one.

But while they remembered those whose lives were cut short by violence, transgender Utahns also reminded people that they are not just a community of victims.

"We must honor all of our lost," said Dayne Law, a board member of Transgender Education Advocates of Utah, "but fight for those who are living."

Wednesday was International Transgender Day of Remembrance, an event that started in 1999 in San Francisco to remember Rita Hester, a transgender woman stabbed to death in her apartment.

While many members of the LGBT and Utah Pride Center attended a vigil at Arbor Manor Reception Center, 2888 W. 4700 South, several in the law enforcement community in the valley were also represented, including West Valley City Police Chief Lee Russo, Salt Lake City Police Chief Chris Burbank and members of the Cottonwood Heights and Unified police departments. Utah Democratic Party Chairman Jim Dabakis was also in attendance.

Alex Miller, vice president of the Transgender Education Advocates board, acknowledged that while there was grumbling in the transgender community prior to the event for inviting police officers, he said open dialogue is needed with law enforcement in order for violence against transgender people to stop.

"We absolutely need law enforcement talking about hate crimes," Miller said.

Miller said he believes Wednesday night was the first time many officers had attended a transgender meeting in Utah. Likewise, Candice Metzler, Transgender Education Advocates of Utah board president, acknowledged Salt Lake City Mayor Ralph Becker for issuing a proclamation recognizing International Transgender Day of Remembrance, calling that kind of support the "first of its kind" in Utah.

The centerpiece of the candlelight vigil was the reading of 255 names of transgender people killed worldwide in the past year. Members of the law enforcement community helped read the names.

The youngest of those killed was 13; the oldest 60. The majority of those killed were in their teens to early 30s. Many of the murders happened in places such as Brazil, Mexico and Venezuela. There were no reported murders of a transgender person in Utah in the past year.

Some had tears in their eyes as they read the names of each person killed, speaking as if they were that person, telling the audience their age and how they were killed. Many were shot and stoned to death, and some were decapitated or had their genitals cut off.

The crimes being committed against transgender people aren't just gay or identity issues, Metzler said. "These are human issues." Homelessness, depression and violence are all intertwined, she said.

Burbank, who delivered the keynote address, said he's committed to changing the way police interact with the transgender community and to "humanize" police officers in the eyes of the public. All people deserve "equal access and protection from law enforcement," he said.

"We're going to treat all human beings the same and demand more from our public servants," Burbank said.

Email: preavy@deseretnews.com

Twitter: DNewsCrimeTeam