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Despite this roadblock, Kolakowski said the fight for transgender rights is "the next civil rights issue. ... It's not just that we're going to be trendy or something. This is a fact."
The attacks from national conservative groups will further push transgender rights to the forefront, she said, exposing the public to more trans people — who, she argued, are uniquely valuable members of society given that they are so determined to live as their authentic selves that they are willing to put up with all of the hardships that come with transitioning.
"What started out as this little sort of fringe issue for people is now going to start taking more and more of the spotlight, and the answer to that is real simple," Kolakowski said. "The transgender community has to step out into the light and let people know who we are. That's the only way we are going to be successful."
This month, as transgender people around the world honor victims of transphobia, the conversation in Oakland will be particularly pressing — especially given the recent attack on Sasha Fleischman. The victim's family said the teenager's burns required multiple surgeries.
"It's unfathomable," said Jason Overman, spokesperson for Oakland City Councilmember Rebecca Kaplan, the first out lesbian on the Oakland City Council, who will speak at the Transgender Day of Remembrance at City Hall, alongside Mayor Jean Quan, Oakland Interim Police Chief Sean Whent, and Councilmember Lynette Gibson McElhaney. "We obviously still have work to do." The fact that the perpetrator in the case was swiftly charged — with hate crime enhancements — "demonstrates how far we've come," he added.
Still, for those who have been forced to mourn the loss of loved ones because of homophobia or transphobia, the "hate crime" label can feel pointless — a stiffer sentence that will only go so far in preventing future violence. "A human being was lit on fire," Woods said. "Let's just process that for a second." It is a lot to take in, she said, especially considering current opposition to basic anti-discrimination policies for transgender youth.
Foremost, Transgender Day of Remembrance ceremonies are about remembering the deceased. "Brandy [Martell] should've been on a sitcom," said McCree. "She was one of the funniest people I ever met in my life. Once she met you one time, she could imitate you to a tee."
"She was a very, very warm-spirited person," said TransVision's Kayla Moore. Woods said Martell had the unique ability to never make enemies, a characteristic that made her an especially effective team member.
"She was becoming the woman we all wanted to be," added McCree.
Martell is one of many who will be honored on November 20, more than a decade after the first Transgender Day of Remembrance. Activists first held the event in 1999 to honor Rita Hester, an African-American transgender woman killed in Allston, Massachusetts the previous year.
Her murder remains unsolved.
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