I see you and I love you: Columbus honors Trans Day of Remembrance

Felicia DeRosa on the spirit of community at the core of today’s memorial service, which takes place at King Avenue United Methodist Church.
Transgender Day of Remembrance organizers
Transgender Day of Remembrance organizersCourtesy Felicia DeRosa

Felicia DeRosa is tired.

Part of this is tied to the exhausting schedule the artist, educator and activist has kept in recent weeks. On Friday, she helmed the monthly T-Talk program at Wild Goose Creative, centering her discussion on the concept of empowerment. And today (Monday, Nov. 20), she'll help lead the local observance of Transgender Day of Remembrance, which honors the transgender individuals killed in the last year and takes place at 6:30 p.m. at King Avenue United Methodist Church. (The ceremonies can also be streamed online here.)

But another part of this growing fatigue can be traced to the ongoing legislative attacks levied on the transgender community by the political right both in Ohio and across the nation. Attacks which this year alone have led to the proposal of nearly 600 anti-trans bills, according to the Trans Legislation Tracker, including five bills currently pending in the GOP-controlled Ohio General Assembly.

“The socio-political attacks have quadrupled, and it’s insane,” DeRosa said in a mid-November Zoom interview. “Everybody in the trans community is traumatized from it, because there’s no break. It’s never like, okay, I’ve got six months here of things being alright. I can recover. No. Everyday it’s some other bullshit. Everyday some other idiot conservative talking out of their rectum gets up there and ‘blah, blah, blah.’ … It’s all fear mongering, and all we can do is get out there and counter their stupidity with intelligent conversation. For every one idiot that says something, there should be five of us that get up there and counter it, because the only way it’s going to get better is to constantly expose their ignorance, to expose their hate.”

DeRosa said the intensity of these political attacks has further endangered a trans community that is already at greater risk of physical violence, describing Transgender Day of Remembrance, in part, as a harrowing reminder of the extreme brutality to which trans people can be subjected.

“On a personal level, since I attended my first Trans Day of Remembrance, I’ve gotten more tired and angrier,” she said. “If you read up and see, these [killings] are never as simple as somebody shot someone. I mean, it can be. But often the way somebody ends our life, it’s like they’re trying to completely erase us from ever having existed. People are dismembered, broken into pieces, set on fire, thrown into trash cans. It’s brutal.”

It’s an erasure that can continue even after death, with the trans individual’s chosen name and gender discarded by their birth family, left out of obituaries and funeral services in favor of an identity they had previously abandoned. Transgender Day of Remembrance, DeRosa said, is a way to reclaim the person’s trans identity, with organizers pausing to read the chosen names of all the those lost to violence in the last year.

While the day serves foremost as a tribute to the departed, DeRosa said it also necessitates keeping focus on those who are still here, and the observance taking place at King Avenue UMC is set to feature speakers who range in age from 16 to 70-plus and who reflect a variety of racial and gender identities.

“I want to honor the people we’ve lost, but also take care of those of us who have survived,” DeRosa said. “I always tell people, if you don’t know someone, go introduce yourself. Meet someone new. Remind that person they’re not alone. And the more we can reach people and show them they’re not alone, the more hope we can instill. And the more hope we instill, the more we can use it to keep pushing back. … And, really, this is what the queer community has been doing since the 1960s, if not longer. We find ways to come together, to keep each other safe, to be educated on everything that is going on, and to survive.”

Part of this survival, DeRosa said, involves not losing touch with life's joys, which she finds daily in her community and her chosen family, as well as in her art practice and at concerts and on road trips. It also comes from the sense of hope she finds in the young, who DeRosa said show greater open mindedness toward concepts such as gender identity than previous generations.

“There’s better vocabulary, better opportunities, and there’s way better community,” she said. “There are so many kids, even if they’re cisgendered, who feel more empowered to explore what that [term] means to them. Things aren’t as restrictive as they used to be, where you had a very small box, and you were either A or B, and that was it.”

These shifting realities have served as needed inspiration to DeRosa in her advocacy work, which she described as a reflection of her larger calling (she remains an educator, first and foremost) but also as something more deeply embedded within her DNA.

“I always joke, I’m from Long Island, I love a good confrontation,” DeRosa said, and laughed. “I don’t have a flight or freeze; I only have a fight reaction. I grew up in a constant fight, in a constant battle. I’m used to it. … For me, doing Trans Day of Remembrance is getting my fight on. It’s getting up there and having this conversation like I’m having with you, and then going around and hugging as many of my community members as I can and reminding them, ‘I see you and I love you. You’re my family. We’re going to take care of each other, and we’re going to get through this.’”

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