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Hundreds gather in West Hollywood for Transgender Day of Remembrance

Transgender

Hundreds gathered in West Hollywood on Friday night to participate in Transgender Day of Remembrance and to protest violence against those in the transgender community.

(Michael Robinson Chavez / Los Angeles Times)

In January, Yasmin Vash Payne, a transgender woman, was found dead with multiple stab wounds on the kitchen floor of a burning Van Nuys apartment. She was 33.

Zella Ziona, another transgender woman, was lured into a Maryland alleyway where she was shot in the head and groin last month by a man who, authorities said, was embarrassed by her approaching him in front of his friends. She was 21.

Ashton O’Hara, described by friends as “gender fluid,” was stabbed to death and found in a Detroit field in July. O’Hara was 25.

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Theirs were among the transgender lives honored by hundreds of people Friday night in West Hollywood for the annual Transgender Day of Remembrance. Volunteers clutching flowers read the names -- and graphic details of the deaths -- of dozens of transgender people killed around the world this year. In life, many faced brutality. In death, some would have their self-identity mischaracterized by family, police and the media.

The theme of this year’s event: Not One More.

“Every year, it doesn’t get any easier, because we’re recognizing too many people lost to hate and violence,” said Coco LaChine, a member of the West Hollywood Transgender Advisory Board.

The Transgender Day of Remembrance, now a worldwide observance, began as a vigil recognizing people killed in violent acts after the still-unsolved 1998 slaying of Rita Hester, a transgender activist, in her native Boston. Hester was stabbed 20 times in her apartment, according to GLAAD.

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There have been at least 22 killings in the U.S. so far this year of transgender and gender-nonconforming people, including 19 Latina or black transgender women, according to the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs. It is the highest toll since advocacy groups began tracking them more than a decade ago. Many more are believed to be unreported, advocates said.

At least three transgender women, including Payne, have been killed in California this year, according to Equality California.

This year “has been a year of impressive accomplishments for LGBT people, but an underlying tragedy should mute any celebration: the transgender members of our community, especially transgender women, continue to suffer from staggering levels of violence,” Rick Zbur, Equality California’s executive director, said.

In West Hollywood, the blue, pink and white transgender flag flew over City Hall. At the ceremony at the city library, the mood was nuanced: attendees were familiar with the pain of violence and death, and yet cheered by the sight of so many transgender people in one place.

“We get to hug, we get to see each other. That’s how you heal and know that you’re not alone,” said Drian Juarez, a member of the city’s Transgender Advisory Board.

As some in the audience wept, members of the newly formed Trans Chorus of Los Angeles sang the Goo Goo Dolls’ “Iris”: “When everything’s made to be broken, I just want you to know who I am.”

James Wen, chair of the Transgender Advisory Board, told the crowd that he, too, has faced violence, and has been pushed against the wall, with someone’s forearm pressed against his voice box.

“By grace we are living,” he said. “We must not allow ourselves to be snuffed out.”

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Vicky Mitchell, a transgender woman from Arcadia, read a story of a trans woman beaten to death in Brazil. Mitchell, 67, has been to many days of remembrance, read many names.

“I know these people suffer,” she said with a sigh. “But mostly, they simply want to be accepted, to have someone put an arm around them, to hug them, to give them a job so they don’t have to struggle.”

After the ceremony, attendees took to the street, marching down Santa Monica Boulevard, chanting, “Not one more!” Some hoisted signs that read, “Stop killing us!”

Xzanakya Savvoto, a 21-year-old transgender woman, held a blue candle as she walked. She too had read the name of a victim and planned to keep the print-out of the woman’s story and to post it on a board where she keeps favorite quotes so she doesn’t forget. She too has experienced harassment and said she knows she could have easily been one of the names read.

As the group marched, Transgender Advisory Board member Mariana Marroquin handed a small transgender flag to a man observing from the sidewalk. As she moved on, he stayed, waving the flag at the crowd, cheering.

hailey.branson@latimes.com

Twitter: @haileybranson

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