The event took place on Transgender Day of Remembrance, the final day of Transgender Awareness Week.
Serving as the keynote speaker at the event was transgender activist and former Navy SEAL Kristin Beck, who previously served as a member of the famed counterterrorism unit, SEAL Team Six. Beck made headlines in 2013 when she became the first openly transgender former SEAL. A documentary about her story was released in 2014.
Beck was joined by Toni-Michelle Williams, a transgender activist who graduated from Norfolk State University, and Gavin Grimm, a Gloucester County High School student who was recently named one of Time Magazine’s 2016 Most Influential Teens for his fight for LGBTQ equality in school.
The event began by acknowledging the 26 transgender lives that were violently taken in 2016.
“Around the room, you’ll see chairs marked for the 26 individuals who could not be here today,” said LGBT Center of Hampton Roads director Mary Aab. “It’s the highest number of transgender deaths we’ve seen in a long time and we are heartbroken. Today is about us uniting as a community and supporting each other.”
The speakers acknowledged a political shift they say is cause for concern.
“The political climate has just changed radically and people are afraid,” said Grimm. “But we have to remember that no matter our setbacks, we are a community that cannot be destroyed. Things are getting better with every generation.”
Despite his young age, Grimm has already become a symbol of hope for the LGBTQ community. Grimm identifies as a transgender male and fought his school district for the right to use the men’s restroom. The case is now set to be reviewed by the Supreme Court.
Williams shared the same concerns about the recent setbacks experienced by the LBGTQ community, but remained hopeful in the strength of her peers and allies.
“This year, trans people, particularly those of color, were in great danger. The system is not designed for the most marginalized of us to survive and thrive in the way we deserve to,” she said. “But we have some amazing youths who are in the fight and doing the work. We all have that power and that gift of the act of change. That’s pretty powerful.”
Beck also called on allies of the community to take action and shared details about the moment she decided to become a transgender activist.
“One day after I had come out, I was walking down the street and was attacked by four men. They could have killed me that day,” she said. “Before that happened to me, I wasn’t an activist, but the next day I started becoming an activist. Not long after, I wore a dress to work, because if I wasn’t visible then I wasn’t doing anything to help the LGBT community.”
Beck, who received a Purple Heart and Bronze Star for her service as a Navy SEAL, explained the importance of determination and kindness when it comes to fighting for LGBT rights.
“Looking at the political climate today, people are afraid, but never forget how powerful we are together,” she said. “I’ve submitted my resume to be on Donald Trump’s staff. I want to stand up there and be visible every single day.”
“I ask you to stand up for each other and be an ally of the LGBT community,” she continued. “All it takes is a smile or a word of encouragement, and you may just save a life.”
To learn more about the LGBT Center of Hampton Roads click here.
Pohl may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org