With sadness and anger we bear witness to the brutal assault on Sasha Fleischman on Nov. 4 aboard an AC Transit bus in Oakland.
Sasha, who identifies as agender, neither male nor female, suffered serious burns from being set on fire by another youth while napping. Two days later, Natalie Nereza, a transgender woman living in Concord and working in Walnut Creek, leapt from a BART station into traffic on Highway 680, where her body was struck by multiple cars. On her Facebook page, along with typical interests of a 25 year-old, Natalie's dislikes included "parents" and "fostercare."
Although we didn't know Natalie, everyone affiliated with the Rainbow Community Center in Concord mourns the loss of one of our sisters.
Sadly, the experiences of Sasha and Natalie represent the daily struggles of many transgender and gender nonconforming people. Family rejection, school violence and judgment at work are too often the norm.
Less recognized are the pressures we all face every day to conform to social norms around gender expression. Most of us can recall anxious days as teens when the way you carried your books, threw a ball or styled your hair seemed to telegraph messages to others about your gender and sexual orientation.
While we enjoy watching children dress up in adult clothing or experiment with makeup and high heels, we often fail to understand how children's actions mirror the adult world -- first as they learn what is expected of boys or girls, and then by learning to bully or shun others who don't seem to fit their model.
These early social acts of rejection far too easily become shunning, discrimination and aggression against others. These acts cannot not be tolerated, for they tear at the very fabric of the community we wish to be.
Happily, efforts are underway to increase support for LGBTQ people. On Nov. 5, the day between Sasha's attack and Natalie's death, the Contra Costa County Board of Supervisors issued a proclamation recognizing Nov. 20 as International Transgender Day of Remembrance, and stating that gender nonconforming people deserve to live free of the threat of oppression, prejudice and violence.
We also were inspired by the response of the students of Berkeley's Maybeck High School to the attack on schoolmate Sasha: They will be wearing gender nontraditional clothing to school on the Day of Transgender Remembrance.
The board and staff of the Rainbow Community Center call on our communities to act now to support and protect transgender and gender nonconforming people.
Together we can make a difference by directing necessary attention and resources toward reducing stigma, rejection, bullying and violence.
We can all also act by pausing on Tuesday to reflect on how to increase support for people who are gender nonconforming.
All of us can learn from the solidarity of the students at Maybeck by finding ways to be less constrained about our own gender expressions.
The heartbreak of Natalie's death calls us to collectively increase efforts to reach out, support and help those who are suffering.
We must increase efforts to educate families, schools and faith communities about acceptance of LGBTQ children. When we take care of each other, accept and, perhaps, even celebrate our individual and collective differences, we will all be able to live more authentic and fulfilled lives.
Please join others in remembering Sasha, Natalie and the many other victims of gender violence on Tuesday and every day of the year.
Ben-David Barr, Ph.D., is executive director of the Rainbow Community Center of Contra Costa County. The Rev. Leslie Takahashi Morris, is RCC board vice president and co-minster UU Church of Walnut Creek, and the Rev. Will McGarvey is RCC board chair and executive director of Interfaith Council of Contra Costa County.