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St. Louisans transforming neglected Grove corner into transgender memorial

Organizer Leon Braxton at the site of the Transgender Memorial Park.
Nancy Fowler | St. Louis Public Radio
Organizer Leon Braxton at the site of the Transgender Memorial Park.

A sliver of land in St. Louis’ Grove neighborhood is getting a makeover to become what may the country’s first Transgender Memorial Park.

It’s a cooperative effort between the city and community members. Leon Braxton got the idea when he heard about the city’s “Plant4Peace” project, a program that gives out free trees for local gathering spaces.

“I thought about this would be a great opportunity for something in the LGBT community,” Braxton said.

Braxton found the Vandeventer and Hunt location for a park to memorialize transgender people across the country who’ve been killed for their gender expression — 17 people have been killed so far this year, including one person in Kansas City.

Even so, Braxton doesn’t want park visitors to focus on these tragedies.

“I want people to think about how beautiful the space is and how peaceful. I want people to think of trans people as just normal, everyday people where they can enjoy life and not live in such fear,” Braxton said.

Wanted: Volunteers with shovels

Leon Braxton and Jarek Steele at the Vandeventer and Hunt park site, before a Saturday cleanup
Nancy Fowler | St. Louis Public Radio

The Transgender Memorial Park is thought to be the first of its kind in the country.

The city owns part of the property; the rest of it belongs to a construction company. Both parties approved the idea, organizers said.

St. Louis Board of Alderman president Lewis Reed offered 24 trees through the “Plant4Peace” initiative he organized after the death of Michael Brown. In an email message, Reed’s office said that he's aware of violence against the transgender population, and that the tree-planting program “recognizes we gain our strength through our diversity.”

Jarek Steele is organizing volunteers to help plant trees in the Transgender Memorial Park on Oct. 18.
Nancy Fowler | St. Louis Public Radio

The park is now ready for planting after organizers cleaned up the area this past Saturday. Jarek Steele of South City and the Metro Trans Umbrella Group are looking for volunteers to help with the two-dozen trees on Sunday, Oct. 18.

“If you have a shovel, bring it, if you have a rake, bring it,” Steele said.

Add wheelbarrows and gloves to the list. Park organizers are also looking for donations.

Two benches and the sign have already been pledged. They still need between $250 and $300 for yard equipment for regular maintenance, and some plants for an existing butterfly garden. Donations can be made through the Umbrella Group.

The park will be dedicated on Nov. 20, the official International Transgender Day of Remembrance. Leon Braxton sees the space continuing to evolve. In the next few years, he envisions large trees, perhaps a fountain.

“It may not all happen this year but like people grow, the space can grow,” Braxton said.

Follow Nancy Fowler on Twitter: @NancyFowlerSTL

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