Michelle Fox-Phillips, executive director of Transgender Detroit, lights candles at the Transgender Day of Remembrance service, which took place Nov. 18 at Central United Methodist Church in Detroit. On display in front of the candles is a photo of Michelle Moore, a 19-year-old transgender woman who was murdered in Detroit last month. BTL photo: Jason A. Michael

Mothers make this year's Transgender Day of Remembrance especially moving

Sylvia Guerrero and Lyniece Nelson speak at 11th annual service

By Jason A. Michael

DETROIT -

More than 150 people came out to historic Central United Methodist Church Friday to commemorate the 11th annual Transgender Day of Remembrance. The names of 270 transgender individuals from across the world who were murdered over the past year were read aloud and a candle lit for each.

"Just last week, we found out that there was a murder here in Detroit," said Michelle Fox-Phillips, making reference in her opening remarks to the death of Michelle Moore. "It's just touched me. I was devastated and I'm still numb.

"Detroit lost one of its own," Fox-Phillips continued. "There is so much works that needs to be done in Michigan and the world. We need to educate society that we are just as human as anyone else."

Rachel Crandall, executive director of Transgender Michigan, is someone that's been working on that education campaign for years.

"I am angry," Crandall said. "I am outraged. (I'm here because) I wanted to put my anger to work, and I wanted to pay my respect to all the transgender individuals who lost their lives simply because they were transgender."

But no one's anger compares to that of a mother's whose child has been hurt, and the last two speakers of the night helped the audience learn what "mad" really means.

"You don't frighten me," said Lyniece Nelson, Moore's mother, sending a message directly out to her daughter's unknown killer. "You can't hide from God."

Sylvia Guerrero, whose daughter Gwen Araujo was murdered in 2002, was the evening's keynote speaker. Araujo's story was made into a Lifetime movie in 2006, titled A Girl Like Me: The Gwen Araujo Story.

"As a mom, I'm not going to tell you that with time it will get better because it won't," Guerrero said, speaking to Nelson. "I have learned to live with my pain. ... I was a mother of four. I now have three. Each and every one is different, but we're all born in God's image.

"People ask me if I was angry at God when she was murdered and, honestly, not for a second," Guerrero went on. "Even now, her spirit is with me to comfort mommy when I need it. Just like Shelly is going to be there for her mother."

A lighthearted moment in the evening came about when Rev. Delores Berry performed a version of the classic spiritual "Swing Low, Swing Chariot" with some special lyrics that included a band of "transgender angels" coming forth to carry her home.

"We've just heard a short list of the holocaust that is happening in our community," said Berry. "Don't let this scare you. I have always believed that God wanted us to experience some Heaven on Earth. Don't let anyone take your Heaven from you."

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