In a darkened room inside Pride Center people gathered to remember, mourn and honor the victims of transgender violence.
“I’m here to ring a bell,” said Kalypso Vassalotti. “We need a voice at the table!”
Vassalotti was the keynote speaker at the annual Transgender Day of Remembrance ceremony Monday night in Wilton Manors. She gave a moving testimony of her life’s journey from the depths of prostitution to the joys of marriage and advocacy work.
“When you find your humanity reason comes,” Vassalotti said, revealing a past life as a “go-go boy” that suffered sexual exploitation, abuse, trauma and disease infection.
“Having hope is what has me alive today,” Vassalotti said. “I could have been dead 20 years ago.”
A native of the Caribbean island country Trinidad, Vassalotti said she is a trans woman of color who dares to dream.
“My peoples’ dreams are endless and they are beautiful,” Vassalotti said of immigrants. “We need a little opportunity. With opportunity there is hope, with hope comes dreams and with dreams we build life.”
Elsewhere in the program, Wilton Manors Commissioners Julie Carson and Justin Flippen rolled out the city’s welcome mat.
“You will be safe here,” said Carson.
Wilton Manors was the first city in Broward County to fly the transgender flag, Carson said. The city’s police department sent a uniformed officer to Monday’s program and Flippen noted Wilton Manors offers employees a transgender inclusive health care plan.
“You are valued and welcomed in Wilton Manors,” said Flippen, who disclosed two members of his family are transgender.
“Don’t stop educating,” Flippen urged the room.
Justin Neploa and Michael Rajner, members of Broward County’s Human Rights Board, offered words of encouragement. Rajner, board vice chair, read a proclamation from Broward County Commissioner Tim Ryan declaring Transgender Day of Remembrance and Neploa, board chair, affirmed the proclamation.
Neploa, a self-described straight white guy from the suburbs, said he emphasized with the transgender community.
“We all want to live our lives and be happy,” Nepola said. “When someone is attacked, discriminated against or the victim of a horrific crime just for trying to live their life in a way that makes them happy, then we are all attacked, discriminated against and we are all victims.”
Following Vassalotti’s remarks, participants gathered around a table lit with candles to read aloud the names of the 25 transgender individuals killed during the year. Included in the list was 28-year-old Chay Reed, a trans woman gunned down in April on a Miami street corner.
Thomas Murrell, a Miami resident, attended Monday’s ceremony at Pride Center. Murrell, speaking on behalf of the Yes Institute, a suicide prevention organization, said violence against trans people must stop.
“I cannot fathom a reason why someone let hate overtake them so much that they would want to take a life,” Murrell said.
Despite the sadness of 25 lost lives, Vassalotti reminded the room it is still great to live in America.
“We wouldn’t be having an event like this in Jamaica,” Vassalotti said.
On Monday, the U.S. State Department released a statement recognizing Transgender Day of Remembrance, acknowledging “transgender individuals and their advocates, along with lesbian, gay, bisexual and intersex persons are facing increasing physical attacks and arbitrary arrests in many parts of the world.”
“Often these attacks are perpetrated by government officials, undermining the rule of law,” the statement read.