Following a chilling story regarding the discrimination and challenges transgender individuals face, the Beckley Human Rights Commission unanimously voted in favor of sponsoring Beckley Pride’s Transgender Day of Remembrance Candlelight Vigil.
The vote look place during the commissions regular meeting Wednesday night in council chambers at City Hall.
The vigil will take place 6 p.m., Nov. 20, at the Jim Word Park in Beckley or at St. Stephens Episcopal Church in the event of bad weather.
Christina Baisden, president of Beckley Pride, said the Transgender Day of Remembrance is a way for people all over the world to come together in order to remember transgender individuals who have either been victims of violence or have lost their lives due to bigotry and discrimination.
Prior to the vote of support for the event, Commissioner Robert Dunlap recounted a story from his time at Duquesne University when a fellow student was killed because of their transgender identification.
“. . . their cheekbone was crushed because three frat boys stomped their face,” Dunlap said. “And this was a transgender person who could pass who no one knew was transgender but ... a couple of frat boys discovered this and just beat her mercilessly . . . and that person didn’t make it.”
Through late September, according to the American Medical Association, 18 transgender people have been killed in the U.S.
Baisden that they intended to victims by reading their names aloud during the vigil
Baisden said that this type of awareness in West Virginia is essential because, according to a recent survey by UCLA's Williams Institute, the state has the highest number of youth and young adults per capita who identify as transgender.
The survey also said there are about 1.4 million trangender people in Ameirca.
“We owe it to them to bring awareness to these issues,” she said. “We have a lot of transgender youth who are not completely out because they are too afraid and transgender adults that are living out, but they get discriminated against wherever they go. . . We’re just trying to make it a more welcoming community.”
Baisden said transgender people can also face discrimination from those who are part of the LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and questioning or queer) community.
“It’s a lack of knowledge,” she said. “People don’t take the time to know of understand what these people go through and what it means to transition.”
Baisden said she hopes the vigil will also help educate the public on what it means to be transgender.
Danielle Stewart, chairperson or the Human Rights Commission, said she felt it was important for the commission to support these types of events in order to showcase the city’s diversity.
“I think it’s important for the Human Rights Commission in general as a policy to recognize events that remember or celebrate our diverse population in the city,” she said. “People don’t realize that Beckley is a very diverse city and we want to recognize and celebrate that diversity and we want to remember that tragic things have happen in the past with the goal of things being better in the future.”
Stewart, a transgender person, was the only commissioner to abstain from the vote due to what she said was a conflict of interest.
Baisden said this event and others hosted by Beckley Pride would not have been possible without the ratification of Beckley’s nondiscrimination ordinance which was approved earlier this year.
“With the nondiscrimination order that passed here people feel more safe to have events like this,” she said.
In other business, commissioners voted to nominated Shane Pierce to fill the vacant seat on the commission. Pierce is the manager of the Raleigh Playhouse and Theatre.
Commissioners also set the tentative date of April 24 for their Fair Housing Workshop.
The Beckley Human Rights Commission meets regularly on the first Wednesday of the month