Every victim of violence marks the end of a story, yet so many tales take it as their start. Or at least that’s how I view the month of November. Each year we look back on this month, which holds a special place in the hearts of many transgender and gender nonconforming people, because it reminds us of the lives lost in our community. A month when we remember those of us who will not make it home for the holidays to their cherished loved ones, families, and friends.
Transgender Week of Awareness is a weeklong celebration in the middle of this month of reflection. It raises awareness for the transgender and gender nonconforming community through education and advocacy activities, and it serves as an integral component to Transgender Day of Remembrance, observed for what will be 23 years this month. The day originated following the 1998 murder of a 34-year-old Black trans woman named Rita Hester, to memorialize all trans people who have died from violence.
According to the Human Rights Campaign, at least 32 transgender and gender nonconforming people have been murdered this year, the majority of whom have been Black or Latinx transgender women, in what continues to be an ongoing epidemic of violence against the trans community.
Among those whose lives have been lost this year, is Paloma Vazquez, a 29-year-old Latina transgender activist who was a member of Organización Latina de Trans en Texas (OLTT), an organization founded and led by trans Latinx immigrants who work to build a safer space for the trans community.
On February 26, 2022, Paloma was fatally shot in Houston, Texas.She had immigrated to the U.S. from Latin America, attempting to escape transphobic violence. It found her anyway.
Details of Paloma’s life in the U.S. are partially available from advocates at OLTT, and they help tell a story of the challenges for all immigrants who are transgender.
“Paloma arrived in the United States around March of 2021. She was living with some cisgender women that she knew from her city Choluteca, Honduras, back where she was from,” Ana Andrea Molina, the Executive Director of OLTT tells me.
“In July she came to request housing and health care assistance, she filled out a membership for our organization, and we referred her to a clinic and accompanied her there to receive medical care and then we offered her housing.”
Molina says that Paloma had been homeless when she arrived in the U.S. An issue that’s not unfamiliar among transgender people. According to a survey by the Texas Homeless Network, one in three transgender Americans in our country have experienced housing insecurity.
“All her life from a very young age she was orphaned, the abuse that she experienced made her feel as if people wanted to hurt her, which made her wary of trusting others,” she said.
Paloma’s death comes during a time when Texas Governor Greg Abbott continues to launch legislative attacks on the state’s transgender residents. Earlier this year Abbott ordered state child welfare officials to launch child abuse investigations of parents of trans kids receiving gender-affirming care.
The discrimination faced by trans Texans has become so harsh that families with trans kids are fleeing the state.
Molina calls Texas officials a “bunch of hypocrites with double standards.”
“They say they protect the people of Texas and do what is best for them, but trans people continue to be invisible and we continue to be a political issue for them,” she said.
“The lives of trans women do not matter to them and they should be ashamed as people of faith and as human beings, Molina added.”
A statement that Joelle Espuet, Director of Programming at The Normal Anomaly Initiative, a Houston-based organization that focuses on advocacy for Black transgender and gender nonconforming people, agrees with.
““Even with increased visibility, trans persons, trans rights, and trans lives continue to be a target. As a Black Trans WOC who does community advocacy and resides in Houston, Paloma’s death hits very close to home because it literally happened within my home city,” Espuet said.
“As we come upon Trans Day of Remembrance, we must not only continue to uplift and center Trans Black, Indigenous, and People of Color, but also protect them; not just on a legislative level, but within our neighborhoods, communities, and friend groups.”
2022 has been a record-setting year for state legislation targeting LGBTQ adults and children, with legislators introducing more than 200 anti-LGBTQ bills alone this year, with the majority of bills targeting transgender adults and youth.
Molina says that trans people have existed for many years throughout history, and that legislators are wanting to erase them.
“They have broken us, they have humiliated us, they have beaten us, they have fractured us into many pieces but we are still here, we are alive, we are fighting, we are resisting and we are not alone.”
Molina remembers Paloma’s strong personality and drive to live. “She was in this life for a purpose and now she is part of the flag that symbolizes our fight,” she said.
Speaking on trans women and girls of color today, Molina believes we are not as vulnerable as the media may depict.
“Trans women today continue to resist because we are not the most vulnerable community. We are the hardest hit community but not vulnerable because we are here and we are fighting, we are surviving, we are organizing. And today many trans women in our collective are gaining positions of power and leadership, and that is what scares some people.”
We must continue to nurture that power, and hold onto the memories of trans victims of violence.
So often I find myself thinking of the trans women and girls who didn’t survive experiences that may feel familiar. Paloma and I are the same age. And like me, Paloma should have lived.