Presented by Richard J. Rosendall
GLAA 48th anniversary reception
April 18, 2019
Ashanti Carmon was a 27-year-old trans woman who was murdered early on March 30 near Eastern Avenue. Family rejection left her homeless at age 16 and she survived by sex work. Samantha Schmidt of The Washington Post wrote on April 6, “In the decade that followed, Carmon moved from friends’ couches to budget motels, finding support from a community of other transgender women…. She fell in love, moved in with her boyfriend and sought jobs at fast food restaurants, her friends said. She started relying less and less on sex work, knowing how dangerous the streets could be for someone like her.” But three weeks ago, Ashanti resorted to the streets again, and then she was gone.
I think the concept that one’s life has no value is something most of us cannot fathom. If you have long taken your value for granted and had it reinforced, it is hard to recognize the disadvantage faced by one who never could. Then there are the perpetrators of the violence, whose warring fear and desire use vulnerable people like Ashanti as their rented battlefield, which is more than they paid for. Among those at our margins are riches we do not recognize, like an artwork or antique sold for a pittance at a garage sale. Ashanti deserved so much better. Her death rebukes us. Our work is so far from finished.
Mary Klein was a retired journalist and visual and performing artist who supported and defended the Death With Dignity Act. We are honored to have her wife Stella Dawson with us tonight. Mary wrote in November 2015, “I have advanced ovarian cancer that has spread throughout my abdomen despite aggressive surgery and the most aggressive chemotherapy possible.” She said, “If I had the option of a peaceful death, a death with dignity, I might not use it, but it would bring me great comfort to know it is there.” It was a privilege to participate with Mary in lobbying visits with Senate staffers to defend the Act.
Mary’s quiet determination, her personal witness, her self-respect and love of life, her toughness and perseverance and grace, were awesome and humbling to the rest of us. She stepped up again to see that she and others could avail themselves of the law, by urging District officials to educate doctors about it and to ease barriers for doctors to sign up. We, who defend people’s right to control their own bodies, owe Mary an incalculable debt.
Ashanti and Mary are only two of those we have lost in the past year. Let their lives and the lives of all who have gone before us remind us of why we do this work, and lift us in the battles yet to be fought. As Laurence Binyon wrote a century ago, “At the going down of the sun and in the morning, we will remember them.”