As a country, November 20 marks the annual Transgender Day of Remembrance and is a way to honor and acknowledge the continued atrocities that our trans family faces. But is recognizing the fact that there have been at least 22 trans-identifying folks murdered this year alone enough? Is reciting names in candlelit vigils from decades of lives lost to hate crimes and violence serving them? While it’s at the very least something, and we continue to cherish and honor the collective grief of our community, we all agree it’s not enough.
As it stands today, the Transgender Day of Remembrance is a hopeless submission to the fact that those in power are not doing enough to protect us. The laws aren’t strict enough; the social conscious isn’t up to standard, and the continued persecution of our trans family is supported by the current administration. However, there is hope, and this year needs to be the final year we see this violence at this unacceptable volume.
The next wave of leaders is upon us, and the election in 2020 is a signal of the change that is needed so badly.
“The number of out, elected officials in this country has grown; we are now at 800. After the November elections have been validated, [there are] 800 out elected officials across the country, and that’s amazing,” said Leslie Herod, out Colorado State Representative.
Herod just returned from the annual International Victory Conference, which was held in Washington D.C. from November 13-16. The purpose of the conference was a two-fold endeavor, with one being an intentional means of gathering LGBTQ elected officials from the U.S., as well as all over the globe, at a weekend of speakers, seminars, and panel discussions. They shared ideas, inspired one another with best practices, and challenged each other in recognizing the gaps that still exist.
The second purpose of the conference was to celebrate the fact that this country is seeing an unprecedented number of out LGBTQ elected officials, legislatures, and political hopefuls. The Victory Institute’s 2019 International LGBTQ Leaders Conference saw more than 550 LGBTQ elected officials and held platform to allies like presidential candidate Bernie Sanders.
“This conference grows larger and larger each year, and each year, more and more diverse voices come to the table, and that’s really exciting,” said Herod. “I was able to meet with legislators and city councilors everywhere from California, Louisiana, Canada, and Australia, and it was really powerful and empowering.”
People like Herod and Colorado’s House Representative Brianna Titone, the first transgender lawmaker in Colorado, were in attendance and have been leading the way for LGBTQ folks. Herod has been out since the beginning of her political career, and 2019 marked the fourteenth year she has been involved with the Victory Fund, an action committee dedicated specifically to providing LGBTQ future leaders with campaign support, resources, and training.
“Their candidate training program is the best, bar none. These are intensive day trainings where you learn about everything from fundraising to messaging, to how to deal with the questions you may get from your constituency about your sexuality. I really learned how to run a campaign,” said Alex Valdez, an out Colorado House Representative.
While Valdez had attended two consecutive years prior to the 2019 conference, he was now in attendance as an out LGBTQ elected official and went from the role of mentee to mentor. He also noted another significant difference to it this year: the sense of urgency around the seriousness of queer issues.
“When I first started going to the conference, I didn’t see the same look in people’s eyes about what this fight means because things had gone so well for so long,” he said. “Now that we’re seeing rollbacks on the rights of trans people and LGBT folks all over the country, you really see an urgency developing in people to step up and lead the country forward and stop the slide backwards.”
While both Valdez and Herod agreed that this LGBTQ leadership conference was inspiring and motivating, there is so much work that needs to be done. In Colorado, in the U.S., and around the world, trans lives matter; queer lives matter; black lives matter; immigrant lives matter; all minority lives matter.
We can have hope that there are leaders who are doing the work to make sure that days like Transgender Day of Remembrance are but a memory and a way to honor those lives lost in the liberation of LGBTQ people everywhere. Until then, we still make the necessary space in our hearts and keep our minds on those humans who were just trying to live their authentic lives.