The Transgender Memorial Garden in St. Louis, Missouri – the first trans memorial in the United States – has been a quiet place for reflection and celebration since October 18, 2015 when a group from the trans community and their allies transformed a vacant lot into a beautiful garden to honor the lives of transgender people that have been lost to violence and to celebrate the lives we spend together. This year, as in past years, the Metro Trans Umbrella Group (MTUG) of St. Louis once again brought together their trans family, friends, advocates, and allies in observation of Transgender Day of Remembrance (TDOR).
Many in the crowd were residents from the metro area, but one woman who said she knew she had to be there with the trans community had traveled over two hours from Cape Girardeau, Missouri. She revealed that her husband is transgender and although he was not able to attend, she believed it was important for her to be there – to learn and to share space.
Attending TDOR remembrance ceremonies is sometimes too painful for some and they find their own ways to reflect. Kelli Busey, Editor of Planet Transgender voiced, “I usually don’t attend TDOR ceremonies. It’s just too sad. This year on November 21 I will be attending a rally for a hate crime survivor.”
On November 20 the garden itself wept for those whose lives were taken too soon by violence as it was transformed into a cemetery. Painted tombstones adorned with the names of people recently lost greeted all who entered the TDOR vigil – stirring reminders of what trans people face each day as they bravely live as their authentic selves.
“It isn’t a cake walk by any means and can be challenging just to get out of bed to face the day,” reminds Christa Lou Cunningham, Pride St. Louis President. “Trans people face barriers everyday…and yet we persevere, thrive and flourish in living our authentic lives. I am proud that here in St. Louis we have the ONLY Transgender Memorial Garden in the USA that provides a place of reflection and celebration.”
The crowd of approximately 300 people stood shoulder to shoulder in the garden before moving across the street to a reception and reflection at the Missouri Foundation for Health (MFH).
The 2019 celebration for our own was led by MTUG’s peer advocate Amayah Cole and members of local clergy. CHARIS, St. Louis Women’s Chorus and Song Squad from MTUG provided musical reflection in between personal trans stories. The reading of the names of persons lost since last year’s TDOR was led by Shelley Tibbs-Moore with volunteer support, as a ribbon-pinning ritual throughout the crowd was somberly introduced into this year’s tribute.
“They tried to bury us. They did not know we were seeds.” – Dinos Christianopoulos
“I feel such empathy for struggles of my trans patients. They are survivors,” shared Carol Ann Aylward, MD of Kansas City who spent much of the day with the trans community in her thoughts. ”Over the past five years I’ve performed over 150 transgender female to male or male to female Top Surgeries. It is been such a gift to me. My life has been filled with so many wonderful patients – many I call friends.”
The garden was filled with emotion. Tears were shed and hands were held as new faces met their community for the first time and old friends were reacquainted. Missing from those assembled was the physical presence of Sayer Johnson, Executive Director and Founder of MTUG. Unable to attend for medical reasons, Johnson sent his ceremony closing words to be shared in his absence.
“Give us our roses while we are still here!” – Sayer Johnson, MTUG
Read by Pastor Tori Jameson, Sayer’s message was presented and reflected in audience call backs. He spoke of the need to continue to work and live together as community and that we must keep striving to lift each other up as we work towards equality. He reminded us that we should never stop holding others accountable. While we are best at caring for ourselves, we need our allies to walk our path with us; and that one life lost is one too many.
Johnson demanded that in order for us to survive, those who are wont to grant support should, “Give us our roses while we are still here!”
You can show your support or learn more about Metro Trans Umbrella Group here.