This weekend marks Albuquerque’s 39th PrideFest, promoting a positive image of the LGBT community. But many transgender people feel like there’s still a long way to go in the fight to end discrimination.
Over one hundred people got together Thursday night at the Transgender Resource Center of New Mexico before the candlelight vigil that launches Albuquerque’s PrideFest weekend.
“It takes a lot of guts to be standing here right now,” Adrien Lawyer, TGRCNM’s co-director said. “Let’s look around and really see each other and make these connections, because we’re the ones that are going to be here to hold each other up.”
Lawyer explained that at the center, the word transgender includes the most broad definition, where a person whose internal gender identity does not one hundred percent line up with the sex they were assigned at birth.
Lawyer added that transgender people are discriminated against intensely and experience some of the highest rates of unemployment and homelessness of any minority in the U.S. The rate of suicide attempts among transgender people is radically higher than other populations. Often, they are rejected by their birth families. Lawyer said people use the resource center to get help finding housing and work and HIV testing, but mainly to forge bonds with people who accept them how they are.
“Society at large can often be very rejecting and even cruel,” Lawyer said. “So we’re building our own family here and creating attached relationships that then allows for our own personal growth and healing."
Eva Sofia wore dark sunglasses and a floral V-neck dress. She’s a soldier in the U.S. Army.
“I wasn’t really expecting to speak today, but I just wanted to give a shout out to all the trans vets out there,” Sofia said. “And I’m a bit scared to be up here. There’s a lot of people in this country who are serving basically incognito, and I happen to be one of those people.”
“Whenever you are in the military, it’s all an image, you know,” Sofia explained. “I’m really tall, and they just assume that you’re like this masculine tough guy. And it hurts, too. You have to go cut your hair, especially if you identify as being female then that’s a big part of womanhood, is your hair. So it’s a struggle to be within the male regulations.”
Sofia said she’s leaving the military after 7 years and that she’s looking forward to being one person, full-time. Being in the military has given her the strength to come out and deal with adversity, but she said being a transgender Latina is scary.
“There’s a lot of stories in our community that aren’t being told,” Sofia said, “and it’s violence against women of color. We get butchered. Trans women of color are free game. In our society, people feel like they can just kill us.”
There have been at least a dozen confirmed murders this year of transgender women in the United States.
The crowd from the transgender resource center hit the streets, marching to the candlelight vigil.
Mattee Jim is a transgender Native American woman who was chosen to be grand marshal for PrideFest this year. It’s the first time that a Native American transgender person has been given the honor in Albuquerque.
“There are several occasions where transgenders are left out and don’t have equality,” Jim said. “I’m Diné, I’m Navajo, and then I identify in western concepts as a Native transgender woman, so it also gives great meaning to represent my Native trans community.”
Jim has been fighting for equality for transgender people for years now. She does think that, ever so slowly, the tide is turning. LGBT folks, along with their friends and families, lit candles and ended the evening in song.