TDOR: Remembrance and Inspiration
In the late fall of 2001 I got back from my second deployment with HSL-46. The post-deployment period gave me a lot more free time. As always, this gave my dysphoria a chance to manifest itself. I didn’t know what to do; it was more palpable than ever before.
I found out the leader of a local transgender support group in Jacksonville was a retired Navy LCDR. She had also been a Naval Flight Officer in P-3’s for 22 years, and had fast-tracked her transition soon after retiring. She was also a very out and prominent local activist. Her name was Terrianne Summers.
I e-mailed Terianne quite a bit and spoke with her 3 or 4 times on the phone. She was soft spoken, kind, empathetic to my plight, and had a wry sense of humor. We decided that we would meet sometime around the holidays, when both of us had a little time off. I was terrified, but she was my only lifeline to figuring out why I felt the way I did. The meeting never happened, though.
Eleven months earlier, in January of 2001, Winn-Dixie fired one of their drivers for being a cross dresser. The company’s headquarters were located in Jacksonville. Terrianne led marches, protests, boycotts, and even made national cable news. It was very embarrassing for Winn-Dixie, and resulting lawsuit by the driver eventually became the infamous Oiler v. Winn-Dixie court case.
On December 12th 2001, Terrianne Summers was found shot to death in her driveway. Whoever did it ignored the purse she had left in the car, along with the keys to the car and the car itself. She had been shot in the back of the head at point blank range. She was killed just 22 days after she participated in the Transgender Day of Remembrance in Florida.
The Jacksonville police blamed it on a robbery, even though nothing was taken. They refused to investigate it as a hate crime. No persons of interest were named, no arrests ever made. Not that it would have mattered: gender identity wasn’t protected under Florida hate crimes laws. It was obvious to everyone besides the police, though, that this wasn’t some random murder or botched mugging. It was a pre-meditated execution.
Eleven years later, I am in Terrianne’s shoes. I have transitioned, I am out, and I advocate. Someone, including myself, might ask: “Why do you do it? You know the risks. You have a partner and children.”
Because if violence buys my quiescence, then we let whoever did this win by forfeit.
Please, take a minute this Transgender Day of Remembrance to think of Terrianne, and others like her. The only way to give their deaths meaning is if it rallies us to resolve that we cannot be intimidated into silence.