La Familia de Colores hosted their annual “Transgender Day of Remembrance” event on Friday to commemorate the group’s co-founder, former UCSB student and transgender Latina activist Zoraida Reyes, and transgender individuals who have lost their lives in the past year.
Reyes, who died as the victim of a hate crime in June of 2014, helped create La Familia de Colores to provide a safe space at UCSB for Latin@s, people of color and their allies in the LGTBQ community. During the Day of Remembrance, an altar was dedicated to victims of deadly hate crimes and La Familia de Colores members read the names of all documented trans-identified persons killed since last year’s day of remembrance.
Fourth-year Chican@ studies and black studies double major and La Familia de Colores Organizer Abigail Salazar said Reyes was being honored for fighting for justice and equality in the transgender community.
“We have a space that queer trans Latino folks can exist in within this very violent institution we are in,” Salazar said. “But we still honor all the other trans women and trans women of color who have passed away due to state violence or other forms of violence.”
Salazar said she hopes people understand the “urgency” of the situation.
“There’s no coincidence that there’s such a long list of … trans women of color murders,” Salazar said. “We have to be conscious of that and learn how to be allies in order to really help our trans brothers and sisters to create change.”
According to La Familia de Colores member and fourth-year black studies and feminist studies double major Ernie Piña, there are dozens of transgender deaths that go unreported each year.
“This past year, I worked in conjunction with organizing on behalf of Jesse Hernandez … while I continued and continued to look for research on Jesse Hernandez, there was nothing that was reported,” Piña said. “There’s all these trans folks that are passing, but they’re not shown or given the opportunity to visibility that other people would have.”
Fourth-year comparative literature and global studies double major Kasey Rubio said the event should be more of a priority to the whole community.
“Many women have been taken from us; I think everyone should be here to pay their respect,” Rubio said. “These are our fallen trans brothers and sisters. A lot of them we’ll never even know because most of them don’t get documented.”
According to third-year Chican@ studies and sociology double major and La Familia de Colores Board Member Emmanuel Suarez-Jimenez, society continues to struggle with the changing norms and perceptions surrounding sexual identities and lifestyles.
“We live in a really transphobic society that really doesn’t know how to deal with new ideas, new concepts, new theories of how people want to live their way,” Suarez-Jimenez said. “I think that’s one thing we all need to really understand, is that we all have our own identities, we all pick them.”
Piña said problems with sexual and gender identities persist because people cannot accept differences.
“Our society in general doesn’t accept trans bodies because they’re deviant from the norm. In terms of trans bodies, in terms of what gender is — is just seen as abstract or weird,” Piña said. “That’s where hate comes from, that’s where a lot of what drives them from being is that people don’t understand.”
Piña said many people do not comprehend the physical transitions of many transgender people.
“Folks don’t understand — imagine living in this body or this existence where you don’t feel comfortable with the way you express your gender or you don’t feel comfortable in the way you are,” Piña said. “That’s what trans folks do; they make themselves so they can feel comfortable in their bodies.”
Suarez-Jimenez said individual activists have been instrumental in challenging societal norms, such as Marsha P. Johnson who is credited for being one of the first people to incite the Stonewall riots of 1969 in New York.
“She’s a trans woman of color who threw the first stone, who started that police riot,” Suarez-Jimenez said. “She’s who finally started that momentum rolling on the fact that we really need to acknowledge that there are different identities and we need to accept them and we need to challenge ourselves to be more accepting.”
Rubio said the Transgender Day of Remembrance provided an atmosphere to honor lost lives and focus on preventing future tragedies.
“This type of event is just a beautiful space to grieve and to mourn, but also to reflect and look to the future and think about what we want to change and how we’re going to do that, so that we don’t have to continuously be holding these spaces for those that have been murdered,” Rubio said.