CORA Recognizes Transgender Awareness Week

At CORA, we believe everyone has the right to live free of domestic violence. Everyone!

This week individuals and communities around the world commemorate Transgender Awareness Week and Transgender Day of Remembrance on Sunday, November 20th. CORA takes this time to recognize the lives, strength, and importance of trans people in our community. We grieve those who have been killed. We push ourselves as a community organization to deepen our commitment to supporting trans and gender nonconforming people who are affected by relationship abuse.

There have been more known murders of trans people in the United States this year than in any previous year. At least 24 trans people were murdered in the United States in 2016 in crimes that may be related to transphobic hate violence. Transphobia is the irrational hatred of people who do not conform to the rigid gender norms in our society. Of the 24 people killed this year, over half were Black transwomen or transfeminine people. For the past three years, the New York Anti-Violence Project reports that at least 50% of the homicides of LGBTQ people were of transfeminine people or color.

Transgender Day of Remembrance originated from the “Remembering Our Dead Web Project” in 1998, created by transgender activist Gwendolyn Ann Smith as a vigil to honor the memory of Rita Hester, a Black transgender woman who was killed that same year. The first vigil that would become Transgender Day of Remembrance was held in San Francisco in 1999. The day honors the lives of trans people who were killed in murders involving transphobic hate violence. While transphobia is a key piece of the stories of those who have been murdered, Black transfeminine people and trans people of color are disproportionately affected by this violence. Trans people can face many forms of oppression including racism in daily life. Trans people experience housing and job discrimination, lack of trans-affirming and competent health care and social services, state and interpersonal violence, and murder. Trans people who live at the intersections of racism and or poverty experience more violence and higher barriers to accessing services and justice.

Each year, some portion of the deaths reported involve dating violence, partner abuse, and stalking. Quartney Davia Dawsonn-Yochum was a 32 year old transwoman of color who was murdered in March 2016 by an ex-boyfriend. He shot her in broad daylight in front of her supportive housing building in the Skid Row neighborhood of Los Angeles. Anita Nelson, her apartment manager told The Los Angeles Times “I am heartbroken. Our residents are traumatized, our staff is traumatized. Everybody loved her. She was very popular.” Another person killed in August was Rae’Lynn Thomas, a 28 year old Black transwoman who was shot and then beaten to death by her mother’s ex-boyfriend in Columbus, Ohio. While Rae’Lynn was accepted and loved by her family, her mother’s ex who still lived with the women referred to Rae’Lynn as “the devil,” and her family is certain the crime was a hate crime.

CORA stands with all transgender and gender nonconforming members of our community. We are committed to do our part to end the widespread violence against transgender people. We strive to ensure that trans people facing relationship violence have a safe and supportive place to go for shelter, safety, and healing that values and affirms their identity. We are committed to deepening our understanding of the layers of violence and oppression trans people especially transfeminine people of color face. CORA’s shelter is open to people of all gender identities and expressions. Our hotline callers can be readily connected to LGBTQ service providers throughout the Bay Area. We are committed to nurturing partnerships with community organizations that are striving to improve the quality and competency of services available to trans people in San Mateo County.

We know there is much more work to be done. Please contact us if you are interested in collaborating to create communities where intimate partners treat one another with mutual respect, compassion and integrity.

CORA joins several other community organizations in San Mateo in supporting and attending San Mateo’s Transgender Day of Remembrance: The service on Thursday, November 17, 2016 from 4-6pm at Congregational Church of San Mateo, 225 Tilton Avenue, San Mateo. Join us to help create a more inclusive world for all. We will be building a community alter during this event. Please bring flowers, candles, poetry/spoken word to share.

A Letter to my Newborn Daughter About Domestic Violence

When one of our board members at CORA became a mom earlier this year, we knew she’d have a new perspective on talking to your children about domestic violence. We asked her to write a blog addressing how she’d broach this difficult but essential subject with her little one. To be honest, we thought it would be a simple, straightforward blog. What she wrote, though, ended up taking our breath away …. a letter to her newborn daughter.

Dearest Corinne,

You are four and a half months old now, and I thank you for giving me the best 4.5 months of my life. Your birthday, March 15, is quite symbolic. It is the Ides of March, the day that Julius Caesar was assassinated in 44 B.C. – the beginning of a new era. In the earliest Roman calendar, the Ides of March also fell on the first full moon of the year. For me, 2016 is a significant year because it is the year in which the first African-American president of the United States is in office while the first woman may be elected into office. A year that will be remembered for incredible opportunities, such as the first solar-powered spacecraft entering the orbit of Jupiter. Sadly, it will also be remembered for tragedies caused by hate. 2016 is the year of the deadliest public shooting in the United States in modern history, where 49 were gunned down at a gay night club in Orlando, Florida. My heart also aches for Alton Sterling, his mother and his son, and the subsequent murder of eight police officers targeted in retaliation for Sterling’s death. In other parts of the world, nine were recently gunned down in Munich, eight of whom were under 20. A suicide bomber killed 80 in Afghanistan, and 36 people perished from the Istanbul airport attack. Who’s still counting?

Perhaps most of all, my heart aches for the 84 people who were mercilessly mowed-down while watching fireworks on Bastille Day in Nice, France – 10 of which were children. A witness stated that after coming out of hiding from a restaurant along the promenade where the massacre happened, he came out to a street littered with blood and bodies. Among the chaos was a wrecked stroller. He did not mention whether there was a child sitting in it, so I kept my hopes up and wished and wished that a parent picked up the child and escaped to a safe place. I will never know, but I can hope.

What can be done? What’s left in our control? Are we becoming callused by these death tolls?

Many of the deaths that have happened since your birth are things that no one could have foreseen. It is easy to feel hopeless among the multiple tragedies that have occurred around us. On the one hand, we can sit and bemoan the victims and scream at all of the unfairness in the world. On the other hand, we can do our best to look out for abuses – abuses that may lead to deaths – that ARE preventable. Death caused by something that happens in each of our neighborhoods that we don’t talk about enough. And there are people we interact with daily but we have no idea of the battles they face at home. They are victims and survivors of domestic violence.

Each year, 10 million people suffer from domestic violence. In San Mateo County, 1 in 4 women and 1 in 7 men will experience domestic violence. Of all violent crimes, intimate partner violence accounts for 15 percent, yet only 34 percent of those injured by partners receive medical care. Over 10 million women and men are abused by their partners each year – nearly 20 people per minute. This also means when you enter kindergarten, a few kids in your class will likely witness abuse at home, and worse, some may have moms and dads who hit them. And moms and dads who hit kids tend to know exactly how hard to hit so that it hurts as much as possible without leaving a bruise.

Why do I care? Because as a mother, I want to protect you from all the dangers in the world. I don’t ever want you to shed a tear because your best friend’s dad stabbed her mom. Years from now, I don’t ever want to see purple marks on your arm or around your neck because your partner got upset that you stayed out too late. No one ever has the right to hit you or anyone else.

When you become old enough to protect people you care about, I want you to look out for signs of domestic violence. Many also suffer silently as their intimate partners abuse them in more ways than one: sexual, emotional or psychological, financial, and via controlling behavior. Men, too, can be victims, and it’s often more difficult for them to reach out because they feel too ashamed. Unless we keep our eyes open for signs of abuse, and unless we talk more openly about it, people won’t know that we care and that it’s okay to ask for help.

Tragedies aside, as I reflect on the kind of world I’d like to see you grow up in, a few hopes come to mind.

I hope that you grow up in a world in which you will not be held to a lower standard because you are a girl, that if you were to climb a tree, those around you would cheer you on, as they tend to more for boys than for girls, rather than tell you to be careful.

I hope that you grow up in a world in which math teachers won’t tell you that it’s okay for you to not be good at math, because “some people are just not math people.”

A world in which if a man rapes or assaults you, people won’t immediately question, “What were you wearing? How much did you have to drink?” That instead, they ask, “What made him think he was entitled to violate you?” “What can we do to make sure he doesn’t do this to anyone else?” and “How can we help make you feel safer?”

But most of all, I hope you grow up in a world in which everyone will feel safe in their own homes. I hope that when you start school, your friends will want to come over after school because they want to, and not because they don’t want to go home. A world in which people will not shake their fingers at you for staying in a relationship with an abusive partner, but be there for you when you feel ready to seek a way out. “It’s easy to judge someone’s choices when you don’t have to make them.”

Because if you don’t feel safe somewhere, you won’t feel safe anywhere.

I hope that one day, you will look out for signs of domestic violence and help people you care about seek help if they are ready for it. It’s a big responsibility, but it’s one that belongs to all of us. Because even one life saved is one life gained.

I feel so lucky to have the privilege of loving and caring for you. To be able to read Brown Bear to you, make silly faces together in front of the mirror, and cheer you on as you kick your chubby little legs in the pool. One day, I hope to teach you how to ride a bike, build a campfire, and make dumplings from scratch. None of the people whose lives were robbed this year will get to experience those things with their children. None of the children whose parents have perished will be able to create new memories with them.

With so much love and hope,

Mommy

In memory of Kylan (4), Yannis (4), Mehdi (12), Brodie (11) and the six other children who lost their lives in Nice, France, in July 2016.

A Witness and Volunteer with a Story to Tell

This piece was written by guest blogger Alessandra Jimenez*. Aly is a child witness and volunteer here at CORA. We’re proud to be part of the complex, healing and powerful process of telling her story. 
*All names have been changed for this piece.

 

Alessandra “Aly” Jimenez, recently graduated from Skyline College with an Associate of Arts degree in English. Alessandra, an aspiring writer, unsure of her next step in life, heard about CORA’s volunteer program through a family member. After learning about CORA, the sole domestic violence agency in San Mateo, Aly began volunteering in August 2015. She felt apprehensive, yet extremely excited to start because she had never submitted her written work to an agency. Aly volunteers for the Development department and continues to learn new writing techniques each week.

As nervous as she was, Aly never fully realized how CORA would help her in her own healing process. Aly was born four and a half months premature as the result of a domestic violence conflict. Sometimes her childhood felt anything but normal. The lack of normal experiences started from the very moment Aly was born. Her mother Jade started to feel labor pains after getting into a physical argument with her husband. Forced to leave her home with no shoes or help, Jade eventually made it to the hospital. For three days, Jade struggled to keep Alessandra in the womb. By the third day, Jade had no other choice but to deliver the baby. Alessandra was born in 1992, barely weighing a pound. Aly was so tiny she could fit in the palm of her mother’s hand. Miraculously, Aly was more physically developed than most premature babies at her stage. She had a full head of hair, fingernails and strong lungs. However, this did not mean Alessandra’s birth was free of complications.

Aly was only a newborn when she endured her first surgery in a string of many. The first procedure she had done was to shut an underdeveloped heart valve. Although her surgery was successful, doctors still needed to monitor her health and growth rate. Aly spent the first five months of her life in an incubator. After reaching the weight of six pounds, her parents were finally permitted to take her home.

At the age of two, Aly was diagnosed with Cerebral Palsy (CP). Doctors claimed she would most likely never be able to walk, speak or do much of anything in terms of mental capacity. As a result of CP, Aly remains wheelchair bound to this day. However, with help from her mother and her grandmother Ellie, she made several developmental strides throughout her youth. Aly consistently learned new objectives and grew stronger every day. She began Early Childhood Education as a toddler, where she made friends. At the time, Aly was happy, but she quickly realized how different she was from her peers. Although she was in a special education program, she felt different because there were not many other students in wheelchairs. When she turned six years old she began attending a mainstream public elementary school in 1998.

Throughout her youth, she experienced a multitude of surgeries that became a blur over the years. It was one corrective surgery after another as a result of her Cerebral Palsy and, later, her scoliosis. The exact years and specific procedures are difficult for her to remember, but her visible scars remind her every day of the pain she endured. Thirteen scars mark her body, stemming from six major surgeries. For a time, as difficult as some aspects of her childhood were, parts of her childhood were great. She looked back fondly at times she had with her family when they went to Nevada every year to see the snow. She also remembered a time she and her family went to Disneyland for the first time in the winter of 2000. Despite the fact that it poured sheets of rain for a week, she still had a lot of fun.

Aly’s happy childhood shattered in 2003. Her parents began the processes of separation, divorce and custody. Aly, Jade, her sister Rose and Ellie were forced to leave the home they had lived in for over a decade to move away from her father, Matthew. Unfortunately, it was not simply just the divorce or the move that caused Ally to feel like her entire life was forever changed. It was the reason behind the divorce. The custody issue was quick and easy since Matthew wanted to have as little time as possible with his daughters, but the persistent arguments between Jade and Matthew only complicated the situation. Aly did not understand why her parents were both so angry at each other. They fought and yelled loudly at one another. But Aly and her sister Rose never saw it as anything more than verbal anger spewed back and forth throughout their thirteen years of marriage. Occasionally Aly was curious about the state of her being. Questions about why she was in a wheelchair or why she had CP would pop up every so often when they were driving in the car. During those times, Jade would explain that she had the flu or that she fell over a vacuum cleaner. It was not until the following year, in 2004, that Aly finally learned the actual truth about her father and her parents’ marriage.

Aly’s father, Matthew, a child of domestic violence himself, pushed Jade over a vacuum cleaner for not wanting to do housework at his request. That single event caused Jade to not only have a fractured rib, but also caused her to give birth to her premature daughter. Aly’s disability was set in that moment. Her first reaction was utter disbelief, but then she thought back to previous years when Matthew would curse Jade out, cursing at her in every way possible. Aly also learned that her father was a serial cheater and liar. Anger bubbled up inside her like puss in an infected wound. She was furious at what her father not only did to her mother, but to her as well. Aly had to live every single day in a wheelchair because of Matthew, who also continued the cycle of generational and familial abuse. By 2005, Aly and Matthew’s relationship was mostly severed. Matthew was absent from her life for several years with the exception of texts on her birthday every year.

Life seemed easier for a time up until 2007, when Aly’s scoliosis became so severe that she needed major surgery – a spinal fusion. Before Aly could even get the surgery she needed to regain the weight she had lost months prior. The exact number did not matter, but the reasons behind her actions did. She could not control her own body at times. As much as she grew to hate her father, there was this negative little voice in her head which was not her father’s. It was her voice and it influenced many of the decisions she made. Her weight felt like the only aspect of her life she could control, so she adopted some unhealthy eating habits. Part of the reason behind her decision was because she hated her body as a teenager. However, with some help from her doctor, mother and her mother’s boyfriend, Adam, she got the help and treatment she needed to become strong enough for surgery. While she did not blame everything on her father, his abandonment weighed on her heavily.

Like many children of domestic violence, she felt like it was her fault. She believed she could have done something more to help her family. Aly also wondered why she felt like her father never really loved her. Matthew gave her the answer to that question after she spent seven years wondering. A couple of months after her eighteenth birthday, Matthew sent her an e-mail. In that e-mail he spoke of an ultimatum as to whether or not she really wanted a father in her life. Similar to the incidents she’d seen with her mother, Matthew cursed Aly out while he also explained his extreme desire for wanting sons rather than daughters. He also mentioned that he did not want a daughter like her, someone who was disabled.

Aly was instantaneously crushed. Instead of delving back into a dark place in her mind, she decided to apply for college. There she found her passion for writing. Aly formed new friendships and after a year and a half she found her first love, Josh. It took a while for Aly to open up her heart to him, because she did not trust people easily. She was very aware of the warning signs of an unhealthy relationship. Aly was nervous and her father’s words broke her spirit. There were many times when she did not feel confident enough in herself or her abilities. Fortunately, Josh and her mother were both really positive influences in her life. Writing not only became her passion, it served as therapy. After hearing about CORA and completing the necessary training needed to volunteer, she hoped to use her skills to help others at CORA. Little did she know, through her volunteering, CORA would help her heal too.

After completing the forty-hour DV training, she was grateful to understand more about domestic violence. From the lessons learned at the DV training, Aly realized she was not the one at fault. Although she still carries the pain of abandonment and verbal abuse from her father, she realizes she was never responsible for her father’s actions or emotions. Those scars are the only ones that are not visible but, like all her other scars, the pain remains. Nevertheless, her past turmoil and scars give her strength to keep going.

As of today, she is happy and proud of how far she has come. Aly admires her mother for her strength and for simply being there for her every single day. Jade’s journey ties directly in with Aly’s journey of life. The next step in Aly’s path is to write down her story – no matter how uncomfortable it may feel to her. Aly hopes her work and her story will someday aid in the fight against domestic violence.