Members from the transgender community say that too often transgender people are the victims of violence. What’s more, they say, their community is disproportionately affected by suicide.
The New York Times recently reported at least 18 transgender people have been murdered in the U.S. this year. According to the Human Rights Campaign, that number was 26 in 2018.
To remember those who have lost their lives, members of the Anaconda Coalition for Tolerance Education plan to host a memorial in honor of Transgender Day of Remembrance, an international day founded in 1999 after Rita Hester, a transgender woman, was murdered in Allston, Massachusetts.
The memorial will be the capstone of a week of activities the group is hosting in honor of Transgender Awareness Week.
Since 2010, the organization has been arranging activities around the international campaign, which coalition members say draws people not only from Anaconda and southwest Montana but also from other places in the country.
Anne Dobney, president of the ACTE, said the organization got its start in 2005 in response to hate literature that was distributed in the Smelter City by an individual with ties to a white-supremacist group, who has since moved, according to Dobney.
Since 2005, the group has organized events each year, ranging from discussions led by Holocaust survivors to film screenings in honor of Martin Luther King Jr. Day.
“We have four sayings on our logo. One is to build community. (Others are to) eliminate violence, reject racism and respect differences,” said Dobney.
Anaconda’ Transgender Awareness Week begins Tuesday at the Hearst Free Library with a workshop titled “The Link between Tolerance and Self Compassion.” Friday will include an open discussion at the Copper Village Museum and Arts Center, dubbed “Croissants and Conversations,” that will provide a forum for transgender people to connect and share their stories.
On Friday, Transgender Day of Remembrance will be observed at Copper Village, followed by several featured speakers, who will speak on the theme of “Climb Ev’ry Mountain, ‘Till you Find Your Dream.”
Dawnne Woodie, ACTE secretary, is the founder of Anaconda’s Transgender Awareness Week, which she said started out as just Transgender Day of Remembrance.
A transgender woman, Woodie moved to Anaconda in 2010 from Oregon.
It was during a road trip when she first noticed the Washoe smelter stack from the highway. Taking a detour, she decided to stay in Anaconda for several days and, after returning to her then-home in Oregon, she made the decision to move to the small Montana town.
She was drawn to Anaconda, she said, because something about it felt like home.
Woodie said events like Transgender Awareness Week are important because they shed light on the experiences of transgender people.
“When you have transgender individuals who are murdered … It’s important to bring attention to that. By bringing attention to it, maybe something will change,” said Woodie.
The event is also intended to help trans people build connections and form meaningful relationships with others — because too often, she said, trans individuals lose their families because of their gender identities.
“In the transgender family we talk about blood family and then choice family. We have to put our own families together and choose our families. Anne’s my family. Others here in town have become family,” said Woodie.
Woodie said she herself has lost family ties along her journey.
Before transitioning, Woodie was living in Texas. She was a funeral director and Baptist preacher, had “beautiful children,” and was married to a successful career woman who worked in the banking industry. But since the age of three or four, internally Woodie identified as a woman.
“I had to act my life. The reality was I knew what I was inside and I couldn’t be that person,” she said.
On the outside Woodie appeared to be living the American dream, but on the inside she knew she wasn’t being authentic to who she really was. She was depressed, and, in addition to struggling with alcoholism, she often thought of killing herself.
“Suicide is a huge issue in the transgender community,” Woodie noted. It is especially prevalent among transgender adolescents. According to a survey by the American Academy of Pediatrics, nearly 30 percent of transgender female teens said they attempted suicide. That number among teen transgender male respondents was more than half.
When Woodie finally did make the decision to transition, she says, it saved her life.
Woodie and her wife had been divorced for a few years when she told her ex that she would be transitioning. Her ex was supportive, and the two still speak today. But her parents were not supportive, she said, and her relationship with one of her children was also negatively impacted.
Woodie later moved to San Francisco, where she underwent her transition.
Making the transition was the easy part, she said. It was everything that came before that was difficult.
As for Dobney, she said Transgender Awareness Week has resulted in many powerful moments over the years. Speakers often come from out of state on their own dime, and they are joined by attendees, some of whom come to the event just about every year.
“(To) hear the stories from the lips of the people who have experienced this, it’s extremely moving and it changes perspective. It just changes perspective,” said Dobney.