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Sunday, March 3, 2024
March 3, 2024

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‘We gather as a beloved community to say that we dare to be different’: Clark County religious, community leaders speak out on Transgender Day of Remembrance

By , Columbian staff writer, and
, Columbian staff reporter
Published:
3 Photos
Community members gathered on Monday to honor Transgender Day of Remembrance hosted by the Community Foundation.
Community members gathered on Monday to honor Transgender Day of Remembrance hosted by the Community Foundation. (James Rexroad for The Columbian) Photo Gallery

Nikki Kuhnhausen. Brent Wood. Mac Ohana. Natalie Nguyen. Rikkey Outumuro. Summer Taylor. Zoella Rose Martinez. Aja Raquell Rhone-Spears. Chloe Sagal. Colin Smith. Gigi Pierce. Jessi Hart. Kenna Leigh Gillock. Loni Kai Okaruru. Oliver Taylor. Rani Baker. Serena Brenneman. Titi Gulley.

These are the names of the 18 transgender people from Washington and Oregon who have died due to transphobia and hate since 2001.

On Monday, community members gathered in honor of Transgender Day of Remembrance. The nationally observed event formed more than two decades ago as a way to draw attention to the continued violence directed at transgender people.

“There are real people being affected by anti-transgender rhetoric,” speaker and community activist Linden Walls said. “We’re together today to remember those who have lost their lives to that violence.”

Resources

Rainbow Support Clark County: rainbowspprt.cc@gmail.com

Clark County TeenTalk (Peer support hotline): Call 360-397-2428 or text 360-984-0936. Open 4-9 p.m. Monday through Thursday and 4-7 p.m. Friday.

Janus Youth WA State Programs: 360-314-5713; Janusyouth.org

National LGBTQ Crisis Hotline (Open 24/7): 1-888-488-7386

The Rev. Dr. Byron Harris, lead pastor at Vancouver Heights Methodist Church, was the emcee and spoke about the impact the church has had on the trans community.

“I am brave enough to speak the truth,” Harris said. “The truth is that the church universally owes the trans and LGBTQ community, in general, a huge apology.”

The event kicked off with a proclamation at the Vancouver City Council meeting before community members packed the room at the Community Foundation for Southwest Washington. Speakers shared the importance of Transgender Day of Remembrance and having an accepting community. Harris, who identifies as queer, said he moved more than 3,000 miles to find a community that accepted him.

“We will no longer tolerate hate in our community, in our churches or in our government,” Harris said. “As we gather, we hope that this night will mark the beginning of something new.”

Continued violence

The deaths of Black transgender women Rita Hester and Chanelle Pickett in 1998 and 1995, respectively, in Massachusetts inspired Transgender Day of Remembrance, but nearly two decades later, the violence transgender women of color face has not diminished.

In 2023 alone, the Human Rights Campaign reported at least 26 deaths of transgender and gender-nonconforming people across the United States. Some 88 percent of those victims were people of color. More than half were Black transgender women.

Almost half of those victims were killed by a friend, family member or intimate partner, according to the report from the Human Rights Campaign.

This year, more than 500 anti-LGBTQ+ bills were introduced in state legislatures across the country, many targeting the transgender community, according to the American Civil Liberties Union. More than 80 of those bills passed.

12 Photos
Members of the Transgender community, Vancouver police and allies wrap a ribbon around the tree planted for Nikki Kuhnhausen, a 17-year old transgender girl murdered in 2019.
Transgender Day of Remembrance Photo Gallery

In Clark County

Kuhnhausen, of Vancouver, was a transgender teenager who was killed in June 2019. Vancouver’s David Bogdanov was later convicted and sentenced to nearly 20 years in prison for her murder.

Her case inspired local activists to push for a ban on the trans panic defense, where defendants could justify violence based on a person’s gender identity.

The resulting legislation, originally introduced in 2019 by then-state Rep. Derek Stanford, passed a year later in Washington. Rep. Sharon Wylie, D-Vancouver, added an amendment to name the bill the Nikki Kuhnhausen Act.

“I will never forget the night we passed that bill,” Wylie said. “I talked about her as family — as someone’s daughter. I kind of dared anybody to say anything against her or against the bill.”

Standing up for each other

Wylie, the event’s keynote speaker, said Transgender Day of Remembrance is important to celebrate because it saves lives.

“We all want to be heard, to be seen for who we are,” Wylie said to The Columbian. “When you have to hide in the shadows, it’s not healthy. There’s so much negativity right now and so much attack on people for being different.”

Wylie said one of the things she has learned through her fight for gay marriage is the importance of community and speaking up.

“When people opened up and talked about their love for each other, it changed the world,” she said. “The rest of us need to stand up, accept, love and show each other that people can be who they are, and they don’t have to hide in the shadows.”

After the event, a few people gathered in downtown Vancouver’s Esther Short Park to wrap a ribbon around the tree planted for Kuhnhausen.

“Tonight, we gather as a beloved community to say that we dare to be different,” Harris said. “We dare to lift up the richness and value of the totality of humanity. … Tonight, we gather to boldly declare that those that are in the margins are seen, valued and loved.”

Community Funded Journalism logo

This story was made possible by Community Funded Journalism, a project from The Columbian and the Local Media Foundation. Top donors include the Ed and Dollie Lynch Fund, Patricia, David and Jacob Nierenberg, Connie and Lee Kearney, Steve and Jan Oliva, The Cowlitz Tribal Foundation and the Mason E. Nolan Charitable Fund. The Columbian controls all content. For more information, visit columbian.com/cfj.

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