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Dedication of Transgender Memorial Ends Years of Struggle

by Carolina Sunday, Nov. 22, 2009 at 2:48 PM

Last night's dedication of the Transgender Memorial in West Hollywood culminated years of planning and struggle to build a permanent monument to the dozens of Trans identified persons who are murdered each year by hate criminals.

Last night's dedication of the Transgender Memorial at Mathew Sheppard Triangle culminated years of planning and struggle by the Transgender community and the West Hollywood Transgender Task Force to build a permanent monument to the dozens of Trans identified persons who are murdered each year by hate criminals.

Shirley Bushnell, longtime activist and founder of the Task Force, who spoke at the unveiling last night, conceived the idea of a permanent plaque. It was in about 2001, about the second year that we had conducted the annual local observance of Day of Remembrance. Each November 20 our community would assemble at Metropolitan Community Church, then located on Santa Monica Blvd west of La Cienega, and march east to Sheppard Triangle, at Santa Monica and Crescent Heights.

Once we were there, however, there was no permanent memorial for us to place candles or flowers in honor of our dead. Instead there were plaques dedicated to gay men and LGBT events in general, but none specifically for Transgenders.

Bushnell observed this was not right, we should have our own memorial. This pronouncement set off years of challenge and struggle within our community and with local officials that finally culminated in our dream being realized last night.

This author can remember one cool fall evening in Silver Lake about 6 years ago, she met with Drian Juarez as part of a subcommittee that had been formed to come up with a concept for the Memorial. Drian wanted to walk her four dogs while we discussed her draft, so we ambled down to a coffee house and went over her poem and sketch of the memorial, which she said she borrowed from Native American art. After we finished and walked home, we discovered Drian had dropped her draft, and in a panic we rushed back to the coffee house, relieved to find that the draft had fallen on the ground where we had sat. This incident was perhaps a forewarning to the struggles that lay ahead.

Drian's draft was presented to the West Hollywood Transgender Task Force, and over the course of several meetings, a final draft was approved. Numerous calls were made to monument builders, who usually service funeral homes and cemeteries. We all learned how costly building even a small plaque is.

Controversies threatened to kill the whole project when the agreed to language was altered by one member without authorization, resulting in the original cast of the plaque having to be destroyed.

Eventually under the leadership of Karina Samala and Jake Finney, the Task Force was able, after two years of work with City of West Hollywood officials, to get the plaque recast with the original language, and with the raised base it sits on at Santa Monica and Crescent Heights, the whole project costs about ,000.

Last night's dedications is still a whirl of memories to the author, from arrival at Plummer Park's Fiesta Hall at 4 p.m. to help prepare food set up for guests that would not arrive for over three hours, to passing out long stem roses to guests arriving at Sheppard Triangle at sunset, the Plaque we had struggled over for nearly a decade, still covered in a purple shroud. "One Love" declared the banner above the stage where honored guests, including Bushnell, Jarez, Chaz Bono, West Hollywood Mayor Abbey Land, City Councilmen John Duran and Jeffrey Prange spoke. This author was impressed how tidy each speaker's remarks were, contrasting with the lengthy ones we remember from past Days of Remembrance. It was as if everyone knew that this year was special and that we should not any longer delay the unveiling we had struggled so long to achieve.

The audience was particularly moved by the humbleness of Chaz Bono, who thanked us for inviting him, and said he was new to our community, and did not feel he should take up too much time merely because his celebrity might invite more attention to his personal transition, which was the similar to what all of us face.

Once the star of the evening, the Plaque, was unveiled, it gleamed in the kleige lights and all of us stopped to stare, in awe of the majesty of the moment. The Sheriff Deputies had to coax us into the street for the candlelight march eastward on Santa Monica Boulevard back to Plummer Park. Once under way, we made it a fast pace against the cool, dry evening air, all of us anxious to get some food and prepare for the inside film, speeches and reading the names of this year's dead.

There was still a whirlwind of activity when we reached Fiesta Hall. This author was quickly drafted by Karina to help serve food to the seemingly endless line of hungry guests. We had to struggle to get a bite or two to feed ourselves between servings, but managed to be done in time for the program.

Finally after the film and more speeches, the reading of the names commenced, with each reader given a script to match a slide of one or more Transgender murder victims in 2009, over 90 names this year, the largest total I can remember. It took about forty minutes for us to complete the reading, one by one on stage. This made a solemn punctuation to an incredible evening, a stark reminder that for all of our triumph in installing the Memorial, we still face a rough challenge to end hate. Ninety names this year. How many we'll we need to read on November 20, 2010 when we gather again at our Memorial?

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