Whatever career you may choose for yourself — doctor, lawyer, teacher — let me propose an avocation to be pursued along with it. Become a dedicated fighter for civil rights. Make it a central part of your life. It will make you a better doctor, a better lawyer, a better teacher. It will enrich your spirit as nothing else possibly can. It will give you that rare sense of nobility that can only spring from love and selflessly helping your fellow man. Make a career of humanity. Commit yourself to the noble struggle for human rights. You will make a greater person of yourself, a greater nation of your country, and a finer world to live in.
~Martin Luther King Jr., April 18, 1959
On this past Good Friday (April 6, 2012), San Diego held their ninth annual Transgender Day of Empowerment. Internationally in autumn, we trans people remember our dead on the Transgender Day Or Remembrance; locally in San Diego, each spring we choose to celebrate the Transgender Day of Empowerment.
In Gay-SD, the event was described this way in the article Transgender Day of Empowerment:
Calling the Day of Empowerment a “celebration,” O’Brien also said the annual event was created to give a voice and a face to the transgender community, which is often overlooked. “We got together just to be an empowered community because we’re often the silent ‘T’ in LGBT,” she said.
…With over 150 people attending in previous years, Maddocks said the impetus for starting the Day of Empowerment came from O’Brien’s desire to highlight the positive in the community. “There’s so much in our community that’s negative… that we needed a space and a time to celebrate the trans community,” he said.
Maddocks also said the evening is a chance for individuals to share their goals and successes, so “people can see that [being open] can be great and we can do good things and we can be a bigger part of society. Really the basic is just being proud of who you are, standing up for that and seeing there are lots of other people like you,” he said.
At the event, we celebrate the lives of trans people with speakers and a few awards. The chief of staff state Assemblymember Toni Atkins‘ awarded certificates of appreciation for those local trans activists who worked to pass the Gender Non-Discrimination Act (AB 887) into law.
Assemblymember Atkins was the assemblymember who in 2011 introduced California’s AB 887, which in a technical change to existing state antidiscrimination laws added gender identity and gender expression to the definition of gender for purposes of antidiscrimination law in the state. On October 10, 2011, Governor Brown signed the bill into law.
A trans youth and her mother were also honored at the event — there is a tradition within this celebration to celebrate the lives of our trans youth.
My best friend Vicki Estrada lead a sing along song she wrote for the occasion, and one of the verses was as follows:
All those before us
helped pave the rocky way.
They worked and suffered
for all of us today.
But we are not alone
Just look around the room,
All the joy that fills our hearts
makes all our flowers bloom.
And here’s the repeating line of the chorus:
I am me.
I am free.
I can be anything I want to be.
And so we are; so we can.
For me, this award is even more of an honor than being named a San Diego Champion of Pride in 2010. The TDOE Community Service Award is an annual award to trans community activists by other trans community activists — well, to me that’s what makes this particular award so special.
I’m humbled by the sentiment of my peers behind the award. I personally don’t feel like I’ve done enough to be honored this way — there is always so much more to do, and I honestly don’t feel as if I’ve done enough for our broader community’s ordinary equality. After the event I was told by my peers — by those who decided the recipient of the award — that told me after the event that I deserved the award, and that this award honoring me was overdue. Well, I can’t help but feeling there are many more deserving of the honor than I am.
All in all though, I wish a Transgender Day of Empowerment was celebrated nationwide — celebrating who we are seems to me to be as important as mourning the violent loss of those lives each year due to antitrans hate. In some ways, it’s even more important.