Remembering the Fallen: The Houston transgender community dedicates a memorial.
by Brandon Wolf
Lou Weaver remembers the evening of July 28, 2011, vividly. That night, Houston’s LGBT community dedicated the Montrose Remembrance Garden to mark the passing of those individuals whose lives have been lost due to hate and violence.
The garden’s planning committee had identified thirty-three LGBT individuals whose lives were ended because of hate crimes, violence, and bullying. At the conclusion of the program, their names were read as a candlelight procession formed. One of the speakers noted that fifteen of the victims—nearly half of the total number—were transgender individuals.
As the names resonated slowly in the night air, Weaver felt the names of his transgender brothers and sisters cut through him like knives. He was haunted by the magnitude of violence against his community.
Now, more than two years later, Weaver will return to the garden once again on November 20, 2013, to dedicate an additional marker in the memorial space. The marker will honor those victims from his community who have fallen to violence.
An Idea Takes Shape
Weaver says the idea for the marker was the result of a conversation he had with Katy Stewart, executive director of the Transgender Education Network of Texas. “Katy suggested that activists each work to establish a memorial in their respective cities, to bring awareness to the extent of violence against transgender individuals,” Weaver says. “I remembered the Remembrance Garden dedication and the mention of the disproportionate number of transgender victims.”
Weaver contacted the volunteer group that oversees the garden, to ask about adding a marker for transgender individuals. Their response was positive and affirming, so he continued to work with them, bringing the concept to life.
Alan Everett, one of the driving forces behind the garden, comments: “Our list of victims wasn’t a statistically or scientifically accurate sample. But it did indicate a significant problem of violence against transgender individuals, who are particularly at risk, due to hatred directed toward their gender identity or expression. Bringing attention to the seriousness of this problem may help raise awareness and promote a better environment for all of us.”
The Remembrance Garden
The garden came into being as a result of the murder of Everett’s friend, Aaron Scheerhoorn, in December 2010. Scheerhoorn was stabbed to death a few feet from the front door of Blur Bar, a Montrose club. It was the apathy surrounding the incident that sparked the formation of the garden as a definitive response against violence.
Scheerhoorn’s friends had purchased a Texas lilac tree to memorialize him, but had no place to plant it. Charles Armstrong, long-time club operator in Montrose, offered a small triangular plot at the corner of California and Grant as a site.
Award-winning local landscape designer Glenwood Weber offered to re-design the corner and oversee additional plantings. Weber recently talked about his involvement, which has been pivotal to the aesthetic success of the memorial: “When I was attending school at Texas A&M, I met Paul Broussard [a 1991 victim of gay-bashing]. We used to come to Houston on the weekends to visit friends and shop for music and go dancing on Pacific Street. Hearing of that hate crime affected me deeply. I myself was bullied in junior high and high school. When I heard of the plans to create a public garden tribute for remembering victims, I was so energized. What an awesome and positive action, I thought.”
Weber’s design studio is just around the corner from Blur Bar, and only a few blocks from the garden. Thus, he and his assistant have committed themselves as ongoing stewards of the garden, keeping it trimmed and attractive and providing seasonal plantings that keep it beautiful year-round.
Through Everett’s efforts, a permanent granite marker was designed for the garden. The marker, which features an engraved dove and an explanation of the garden’s purpose, was installed in late February 2013.
The Transgender Marker
Weaver says that he appealed to the local transgender community to finance the new marker, and soon the needed funds were available. Working with the garden volunteers, a design was chosen that matches the current marker. The new marker is granite with the same typeface, but features an engraved lily and different inscription.
His community also wanted to donate a living memorial in the form of additional plantings at the garden. Weaver and Everett consulted with Weber, and the final choice was the beautiful white lantana plant. The plant has a purity and delicateness in appearance, but is actually quite hardy, even under the hot Texas sun.
The marker will be dedicated on the 2013 Transgender Day of Remembrance, Wednesday, November 20, 2013, at 6:30 p.m., at the corner of Grant and California streets. The ceremony is open to the public. A short, respectful, yet upbeat program is planned.
Violence against Transgender Individuals
The extent of violence against transgender individuals is vastly underreported, says Stewart. “But we know at least one person throughout the world is murdered every month simply because of their gender identity or expression.”
Stewart notes that in many countries, law enforcement officials don’t know how to properly report these incidents of violence—or they don’t care. She says that no reliable centralized database exists to draw statistics from. Most of the data available is only from volunteer database efforts on the Internet.
Stewart says that the issue at the core of the violence is the occurrence of incongruity between an individual’s sex (the biological components) and gender (a social construct of prescribed behavior based on sex). When the two don’t match as expected, some people react with rage and violence.
“Most likely, they’ve never been taught how to deal with it,” Stewart explains. “They might respond with hatred based on myths perpetuated by extremist groups. Or it might just be fear of the unknown.”
Stewart continues: “Masculinity is heavily defined in some cultures, and the fact that a person born male wants to eliminate the genitals they were born with seems like a gender sacrilege. A person born female, who identifies as male [such as Brandon Teena, subject of the film Boys Don’t Cry], is seen as an invader into the traditional male world.”
Activist Cristan Williams theorizes that some people with little sense of self have difficulty defining themselves in terms of who they are. “So they define themselves by who they are not, and commit violence against transgender individuals.”
Weaver says that the highest incidence of violence is against transgender women of color. Stewart points out that these individuals are often totally shunned by society and can’t find employment. “They are left with little else to do but turn to sex work. And that places them in environments where violence can easily occur.”
Education and awareness are two of the keys for reducing and eventually eliminating the high rate of transgender violence. It is in this spirit that Houston activists have chosen to make the issue more visible with the public placement of this new memorial marker, and they invite the community to join them in this effort.