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Honoring victims in isolation during Transgender Day of Remembrance

On Friday, people will stand away from each other, masked, remembering the dead collectively yet distanced.
Cole Foust of Metro Inclusive Health leads diversity training in 2019 at MacDinton's Irish Pub in St. Petersburg.
Cole Foust of Metro Inclusive Health leads diversity training in 2019 at MacDinton's Irish Pub in St. Petersburg. [ SARA DINATALE | TIMES ]
Published Nov. 20, 2020

People killed for just being themselves will be honored Friday on the annual Transgender Day of Remembrance.

Members and allies of the LGBTQ+ community will call for a safer world, free of transphobia and hate crimes.

But this year, people will stand away from each other, masked, honoring the dead collectively yet distanced. In a world without coronavirus, people would hug and hold each other in support.

“The same weight of our emotions will be there, but we won’t be able to reach out in the same way or comfort each other in the same way,” said Cole Foust, the LGBTQ+ division manager at Metro Inclusive Health.

On Friday, a vigil will be held on the steps of St. Petersburg City Hall. Metro Inclusive Health is providing masks and a sanitizer station.

Even before the coronavirus pandemic, members of the transgender community had a hard time securing safe housing, employment, access to healthcare and social support, said Foust, who is transmasculine.

A transgender person benefits from having a supportive space. Metro Inclusive Health hosts three groups that used to meet in person but now gather virtually, Foust said. Large events where transgender people could gather and mingle have been limited.

For someone who is transgender but living with people who don’t know it, or with family who don’t support them, speaking on the video calls may not be an option because they worry someone will overhear, Foust said.

“It just doesn’t deliver the same effect as walking into a room full of 15 other trans individuals to kind of assure you that things will be okay and make you smile and build that friendship and connection,” he said.

While the pandemic has made some connections more difficult, access to telehealth services has increased for transgender patients, said Dr. Kristin Dayton, co-director of the University of Florida Health Youth Gender Program.

The Gainesville-based program draws patients from all across North and Central Florida, serving gender non-conforming and transgender youth, Dayton said. Instead of having to drive into town every few months for check-ups, patients can now attend some appointments remotely.

“At least for patients who have the capability to do telemedicine, it allowed them to come to visits without having to come in person, which sometimes for trans patients can be stressful,” Dayton said.

The program’s biggest disruption so far came in the spring. Patients starting testosterone injections have to be shown the right way to fill and inject the needle and there wasn’t a way to do that remotely.

Some patients felt they couldn’t wait so she met with them in her near-empty office. Others chose to hold off until a stronger social circle could provide support.

Hormones can alter mood, just as they do during puberty.

“I think mental health has worsened for a lot of people but there’s also such a strong drive for so many people to start the hormones, so they’re willing to accept the risk,” Dayton said.

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Other disruptions from the pandemic include employment among transgender people, who already face challenges because of discrimination. And job status can affect healthcare and housing.

Equality Florida launched mutual aid funds in Orlando and South Florida to help fill the gaps, said Gina Duncan, the organization’s State Director of Transgender Equality.

In Orlando, the $10,000 fund was half spent within 90 days.

“We’re gambling with transgender people’s healthcare and mental healthcare when they’re unable to complete their transition plans,” said Duncan, who is transgender, “and oftentimes impacting the availability of funding or insurance that covers that.”

Many of the disruptions from the coronavirus are felt nationwide, but Florida poses special challenges, Duncan said. In 2018, the state recorded the most transgender murders in the country, she said. So far this year, the number nationwide already has reached a record at about 35.

The Day of Remembrance brings Duncan mixed emotions this year.

On one hand, she wants to honor those who have died and stand with the community as they look forward to a safer world. On the other, she’s frustrated that in decades of advocacy, the number of transgender murders hasn’t decreased substantially.

In addition, the administration pf President Donald Trump has taken steps seen as marginalizing transgender people, barring them from serving in the military, for example. President-elect Joe Biden has said he’ll reverse that decision.

“This administration for some reason continues to attack the transgender community,” she said. “Combining that with COVID-19 issues, it’s been a very difficult year.”

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