Vigil honors lives lost to transphobic violence

According to the statistics the Rainbow Center collected, 26 lives were lost to transphobic violence in the United States in the last year, and 325 lives were lost worldwide. (Photo courtesy of UConn's Rainbow Center)

According to the statistics the Rainbow Center collected, 26 lives were lost to transphobic violence in the United States in the last year, and 325 lives were lost worldwide. (Photo courtesy of UConn's Rainbow Center)

According to the statistics the Rainbow Center collected, 26 lives were lost to transphobic violence in the United States in the last year, and 325 lives were lost worldwide. Quinn McDermott, seventh-semester human development and family studies major, and Zane Carey, fifth-semester urban and community studies major, facilitated the Transgender Day of Remembrance Vigil in the Rainbow Center Monday night, presenting these statistics and honoring the lives they represented.

Transgender Day of Remembrance actually falls on Nov. 20, but McDermott explained Thanksgiving break caused them to hold the vigil early. The event began with remarks from McDermott and Carey about the origins of the observance, founded by Gwendolyn Ann Smith after the death of trans woman Rita Hester in 1998.

McDermott and Carey went on to read the names of the 26 U.S. victims, lighting an electric candle for each one. They lit an additional candle for those who died from transphobic violence who were misidentified, misreported or forgotten. McDermott and Carey also shared details about the victims when it was possible: things their families said about them, their interests and where they were from.

“A lot of these people remind me of my friends,” Carey said. “Looking up the information about what they did in their lives reminds me of people I know.”

A moment of silence followed the reading of the names. After sharing some tips and personal self-care strategies, the facilitators gave an opportunity for attendees to share any personal stories. At the event’s end, attendees could pick up paper butterflies and hearts from the front of the room to decorate and pin onto a wreath, which will hang in the Rainbow Center for the remainder of the year.

“What I really love about the fact that we’re going to be keeping the wreath up is that it isn’t just limited to one day a year,” McDermott said. “Their memories will be here at least for the rest of the year.”

Beyond honoring victims, the event also raised awareness of issues surrounding the transgender community. A large majority of the victims were trans women of color, and several causes of death were police-related violence.

“Oppression against trans people is systemic,” Cassandra Martineau, a speaker, writer, activist and blogger in attendance, said. “A lot of us have a real fear of going into medical or police or other services because we do not get treated fairly.”

Growing up, Martineau was taught to live by the 50 percent rule: 50 percent of transgender individuals would die before reaching the age of 30. Although states like Connecticut have laws to protect transgender individuals, and Martineau said conditions are improving, events like the vigil are still important.

“Things are getting a lot better,” Martineau said. “The more of us that can stand up with pride helps.”

The vigil was centered around remembering the lives lost, but pride in the community was linked closely to the event as well. Pride pins were available for attendees, and pride can play an important part in the recovery process, as McDermott shared.

One of the ways they offered to help in recovery and self care was to “amplify your self-expression,” which for McDermott, who identifies as transmasculine, means dressing in especially masculine clothing. Another method they brought up was discussion.

“People need to talk about these types of things,” Carey said. “We shouldn't have to wait for hashtags remembering our dead.”


Alex Houdeshell is a campus correspondent for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at alexandra.houdeshell@uconn.edu.