USF students honor fallen transgender people

11/17/11 Janelle Irwin
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Transgender individuals suffer from high rates of unemployment an even homelessness. Those challenges, combined with prejudice, puts this group at a higher risk of both suicide and violence. An LGBT advocacy group held a memorial at USF Tampa Wednesday night for all those who have lost their lives due to being transgender.

Gianna Love is a transgender individual. She’s been taking hormones since she was 17. Prior to that, she struggled with a devoutly religious family who demonized her failure to conform to gender roles. Love said she often had suicidal thoughts and suffered from substance abuse. Now, she works to advocate for transgender individuals by participating in events like this one.

“Transgender day of remembrance was an event started by Rita Hester – well, not started by Rita Hester, it was in her memory – it was a woman who was murdered actually, in San Francisco. Basically because she was a transwoman, they had a candlelight vigil and it started in San Francisco and now it’s grown to encompass many cities around the world and it happens every year, November. And basically it’s just a memorial service for trans people who have died because of anti-trans prejudice. Unfortunately we are living in a society and there are still many places in the world where it’s very common for trans people to be killed.”

Dr. Kathleen Farrell is a clinical psychologist who works strictly with the transgender population. She held a lit candle in remembrance of the patients she has lost. Farrell said the final insult often comes after death, when family members use their birth names for memorials.

“One of the young men that I worked with a few years ago who had been in the Pinellas County jail, and basically, I think, mistreated over several hours and walked out of the jail and stepped into traffic and was instantly killed. This past year, I had one of the individuals that I saw that died of cancer, she ended up, her parents took her far away and buried her with her birth name even although she had had a legal name change.”

Max Mesko isn’t transgender. But when she was in middle school she babysat for a little boy she nicknamed FreakTony. He had a special set of rules; all sharp objects had to be locked away from him. No one told her why, but she soon found out.

“I’m 12 years old and I’m watching over this kid and it’s real quiet and there’s this little sixth sense that you get that’s like ‘OK, we’re looking at trouble’. So, I poke the bathroom door – like I said, there’s no lock – he’s seated on the throne taking the serrated edge of the butter knife and trying to eliminate the only thing that he knew was the difference between what he had and what I have. There was blood, on a 6, 7 year old kid.”

She stopped watching him after that and never told anyone what happened until after she found out the little boy later committed suicide. Mesko said she wishes she had not been one of the people to make fun of Tony for being different.

“What ever happened to FreakTony anyway? Dude, you didn’t know? What? Dude he’s dead. He’d been bounced around between his mom and his dad. There’s no such words as transgender. This is the 80’s man. There’s no such thing as education. His dad had got wind, God knows when, of the moniker FreakTony, the nickname I gave him. And he was grounded one summer. He died in drag. She never made it to prom. She never made it to college. She’ll never have a degree; she’ll never have a career. She can’t tell her story, but I can.”

Michael Keefe is executive director of Florida Organization Regarding Gender Equality, or FORGE. He has helped the transgender community gain a lot more rights in the state of Florida. That includes changing a Department of Motor Vehicle policy that used to allow an individual to change the sex on their driver’s license only if they had a complete gender reassignment surgery. Now they only need to be under the care of a gender therapist.

“There’s this engrained violence that occurs in everyday things like the social justice issue. Because of the fact that the transgender community does suffer from a higher rate of homelessness and unemployment and all these other things that adds to the potential of violence towards us and that’s part of what I usually talk about at these events. Not just the fact that we’ve lost these 22 people this year, but why did we lose them, how did this happen and how can we change it? You know, what can we do to change that? And I think it starts in our own communities with the LGBT, the T itself and in the community at large participating and being aware that this is even happening.”

And Kindell Workman is President of USF PRIDE, which stands for People Respecting Individual Diversity and Equality.

“A lot of people are surprised how many transgender brethren and sisters we have that get bullied, that get harassed. It goes reported a lot of the time or it gets marked down as the wrong thing, but usually there’s a lot more than people think. I mean, within the LGBT community they’re definitely the most ostracized.”

Workman read an official petition drafted by USF PRIDE to change the wording in the college’s discrimination clause. The group wants language added that will prohibit discrimination based on gender identity.

Previous WMNF coverage of transgender issues

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High Employment?

I guess it's because transgenders don't know how to answer the gender question on the employment application. Or it could be that businesses don't want to have his, hers, its bathrooms.


Trans people are human beings, not "its". Social marginalization, combined with anti-trans prejudice and many states not offering to change the gender marker on legal paperwork to match the individual's gender identity creates a huge problem where people are able, willing and qualified to work but are denied based on bias.