November 20 was the annual Transgnder Day of Remembrance — founded in 1999 by Gwendolyn Ann Smith to memorialize the murder of her friend Rita Hester who was murdered in Allentown, Massachusetts. In 2010, the Transgender Day of Remembrance was only recognized in 185 cities nationally. Last week, Rochester stood amongst the most progressive of cities in the United States and held in a candle lighting vigil at the Third Presbyterian Church. Community vigil and remembrance events also took place at Open Arms MCC.
Karen Anne Bills is a local transgender woman that is an advocate and mentor for transgender youth within Rochester. Karen Anne led the prayer that was dedicated to all transgender individuals — praying for their acceptance and safety within a society that blindly follows the gender binary. After the prayer, a long and harrowing moment of silence followed. She rang a bell every twenty-nine seconds throughout the period of silence to signify that every twenty-nine seconds a transgender individual around the world is slain.
The statistics about the transgender community are devastating –the life expectancy of a transgender individual is twenty-five years. Fortunately, Rochester follows a progressive standard in regards to the transgender community. Within the city limits, it is illegal to discriminate against a transgender individual when it comes to employment and housing. However, these anti-discrimination laws only exist within city limits. Once an individual enters the suburbs of Rochester, the same standard of equality does not protect them.
Andreas Rau is the executive staff assistant to Mayor Lovely Warren’s office. Rau is a longtime friend of Karen Anne. His attendance was representative of Mayor Warren herself. Rau explained that his hopes for the Rochester are that “one day, [people] are going to walk down Main Street and see something exciting and wonderful — something that makes them throw up their arms around each other and admire how lovely it is to be within our city. Let’s start with the city — whether they want to admit it or not, the city is the leader — not the country. The city leads and always will. Let’s start at home.”
After the candle lighting ceremony, Karen Anne explained that the “reason we have the Transgender Day of Remembrance is because they are forgotten — hence the reason for remembrance. But what we really need to remember is how all of these senseless murders came about — they were sprouted from intolerance and ignorance. If people were more patient with themselves and the world around them, they would come to understand that we’re very much like they are — we have the same wants and needs. We feel the same fear. Nobody else will love transgender individuals for being themselves, and as a result — forty percent will take their own lives.”
It is the responsibility of every Rochestarian to extend their arms wide enough to ensure that our progressive city stands against transphobia and discrimination. A single seemingly small attempt at human compassion will save lives.
Photo: Jill Frier
What’s your favorite color?
Royal Blue is my favorite color. I have more dresses and jewelry in this color than underwear.
What have you enjoyed most about being Miss Gay Rochester 2015?
I would probably have to say that it has been most enjoyable to be able to say, “I am Miss Gay Rochester”.
What’s the fun part of doing drag and what’s the hardest part?
The fun part of doing drag is all the people you meet and the opportunities you get to speak to the community about your beliefs and opinions. The hardest part would be the constant competition between performers that seems to never end.
Do you have a drag queen icon? Who do you admire most as a performer?
That would be Erica Andrews, “God rest her soul”.
What city neighborhood, or suburb, do you live in?
I live off Monroe Ave. and am a Jewish native of Savannah, Ga.
I have three Shih Tsus: Gizmo, Foxy, and Amber.
Death Row meal?
A large Pizza Hut pizza with Extra Extra Cheese
7 of 9 from Star Trek Voyager
Best pick up line you’ve heard?
So, since my number is already in your phone how about you give me a call sometime? (When I look in my phone I realize he at some point inputted it without me knowing. Lol)
Music you’re listening to right now?
Country Music Station
What super power would you choose?
Reading people’s minds
Having to read books for all of eternity
Your worst habit?
Shaking my legs
TV show you’re addicted to?
I am in love with “Charmed”, “I Love Lucy” and “The Golden Girls” equally.
You’re a huge fan of ___?
Phrase you over-use?
If you could have dinner with anyone living or dead who would it be?
That would have to be Princess Diana. I believe there would be so much to learn from her. Not to mention, to hear her stories about her travels would be an amazing opportunity.
The way to love anything is to realize it may be lost (something which I wish I had learned at a younger age).