The sun was just setting last Tuesday as dozens of people, some briefly turning to cast uneasy glances at the railroad tracks behind them, gathered in a solemn semi-circle outside the Sacramento LGBT Community Center.
They had come to mourn Kendall Rae Murray, an 18-year-old woman who had been killed by a freight train the night before. Emergency responders found her body near the crossing at Capitol Avenue and 20th Street in midtown, a mere block away from where the group now stood. She died at the scene.
“We had a person step out in front of us here,” a Union Pacific engineer told dispatch.
What happened in the wee hours of Monday and why still isn’t exactly clear yet. Her family has been mostly mum about it all, as have the employees of the LGBT Center, which many described as “her second home,” even as she bounced from Roseville to Elk Grove to Auburn. Mostly, though, she was homeless and fighting drug addiction.
But last Tuesday night, none of that mattered.
For many of those who had come to mourn Murray’s death, all that mattered was that she was just one more victim of pain and violence, one more friend lost, for a queer and transgender community that has found itself and its allies increasingly under attack in big, small and always emotionally tolling ways.
For months, the Trump administration has been rolling back hard-fought civil rights protections granted under the Obama administration, from trying to stop transgender people, in particular, from serving in the military to ending policies that recognize gender identity in health care, schools, prisons and homeless shelters.
But perhaps the biggest blow arrived last month when The New York Times reported that the Trump administration is considering redefining gender as “a biological, immutable condition determined by genitalia at birth.” Such a decision — scientific consensus to the contrary be damned — would basically erase the identities of about 1.4 million transgender Americans in the eyes of the federal government.
It’s no wonder then that calls to the crisis hotline, Trans Lifeline, have more than quadrupled in recent weeks. Already the United States is on track for this year being the deadliest for transgender people since the Human Rights Campaign started keeping data on murders and assaults in 2013.
“We are able see in real time that policy debates don’t take place in a vacuum,” Sam Ames, the executive director of Trans Lifeline, told Teen Vogue. “They have direct and immediate impacts on real lives.”
Indeed, there is a short line between the hell that many marginalized people are going through right now — whether it’s transgender people being defined out of existence, Jewish people being the target of anti-Semitic violence or immigrants being smeared at campaign rallies — and the Trump administration.
And there’s an even shorter line between the Trump administration and disillusioned voters.
In 2016, nearly 40 percent of eligible voters didn’t cast a ballot, many of them millennials who tend to vote Democratic. We got a callous and craven President Donald Trump, as a result. But according to recent polling, the turnout could be even worse among young voters this Tuesday.
A NBC News/GenForward poll found that only about 31 percent of Americans ages 18 to 34 definitely plan to vote in the midterm elections, and another 19 percent say they probably or definitely will not cast a ballot. Meanwhile, a poll from Harvard University’s Institute of Politics found that only 40 percent of 18- to 29-year-olds say they definitely plan to vote.
Their reasoning? They are uninspired by the candidates and believe that Congress doesn’t represent them or their interests. It was the same song and dance in 2016, when the excuses ran the gamut from apathy to cynicism to pure laziness.
Many who stayed home — or who threw away their votes on third-party presidential candidates — saw what they did as righteous. Well, righteousness comes with repercussions, including a group of queer and transgender people and their allies huddled outside the Sacramento LGBT Community Center on a Tuesday night, mourning a friend and worrying about what could come next in a country run by an unchecked Trump administration.
It has been said many times that elections have consequences. Well, not voting in elections has even more. Please vote.
Erika D. Smith: 916-321-1185, @Erika_D_Smith.