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Race, Identity & Faith

Transgender Memorial Garden Finds New Home In South St. Louis

The new location of the Transgender Memorial Garden on July 6, 2021
Rachel Lippmann
/
St. Louis Public Radio
After being unable to reach a deal with the owner of a piece of the original Transgender Memorial Garden in Forest Park Southeast, Metro Trans Umbrella Group worked out an agreement to transform the Benton Park West community garden, shown on Tuesday, into the site of the new memorial.

The Transgender Memorial Garden has been forced to move from what its founders hoped would be its permanent home because they could not buy a final piece of land.

The Metro Trans Umbrella Group first reached a deal in 2015 to work on three lots at Vandeventer and Hunt avenues in the Forest Park Southeast neighborhood. The memorial was officially dedicated later that year. In 2019, the group was able to buy the two city-owned lots and negotiated with the owner of the third for nearly a year.

“The human who owns the parcel had a change of heart of mind and decided he no longer wanted to sell it to our organization,” said Sayer Johnson, MTUG’s executive director. “It was not going to be worth the fight involved. We have already experienced so much trauma as a community, we didn’t want to engage in that.”

Around the same time, Benton Park West was considering what to do with its community garden, located at Wyoming Street and California Avenue, close to MTUG’s headquarters. The lease was up for renewal, Johnson said, and the neighborhood association was having trouble finding volunteers for upkeep.

Map of the new location for the Transgender Memorial Garden.
The new site of the Transgender Memorial Garden is in the Benton Park West neighborhood of St. Louis.

“It seemed like a really good fit for our organization,” he said. “It’s only a block and a half away from the house; it’s beautiful; it’s got water; it’s well-maintained already. It just needed some TLC. And so we thought it was a good strategic move for us.”

The move will also allow the organization to be a better neighbor, said Elaine Brune, MTUG’s board chair.

“We can work jointly with them to provide a really, really wonderful space for our organization and for the Benton Park West neighborhood,” they said.

The city owns the entire lot where the new garden is located. MTUG will work to raise money to buy it from the city.

Alderwoman Tina Pihl’s 17th Ward includes the garden’s former location in Forest Park Southeast. She said she understood MTUG's decision to relocate the garden.

"But you know it is, as it has moved, I feel that there’s a loss in terms of bringing that diversity of the LBGTQI community here in Forest Park Southeast," she said.

Both Johnson and Brune said there is sadness at leaving the plot in Forest Park Southeast, which they consider sacred ground because it was the site of one of the first memorial gardens dedicated to trans individuals.

“It’s tough, and it’s emotional, but like our sign says, ‘They tried to bury us, but they didn’t know we were seeds,’” Johnson said. “And we are, as a population of humans, a very resilient population.”

Follow Rachel on Twitter: @rlippmann

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