The University of Connecticut’s Rainbow Center welcomed students Wednesday to honor the lives of those lost to transphobic violence as part of Transgender Day of Remembrance.
Chairs were arranged in an intimate circle and students were each given a small plastic candle to light during the ceremony. As everyone sat in a tangible silence with candles lit, student volunteers read out the names of those lost beginning with this month and ending in January 2019. As they read from the list, the people’s names, ages and home countries were shown on a large screen at the front of the room. This list also had place-markers for those who had been killed but were unidentifiable.
“International Transgender Day of Remembrance has been happening for, gosh, I think for over 20 years, after the death of Rita Hester,” Kelsey O’Neil, director of the Rainbow Center, said. “It began and it’s always recognized on, here in the United States at least, on Nov. 20. And we gather all of the names of those folks who have been killed due to anti-trans violence. It’s usually something similar like this, a memorial where folks read aloud the names to recognize those who have been murdered. And a lot of the times, many of the folks who have been murdered are also not identifiable, so sometimes they’ll read unknown names as well.”
The ages of each person varied from teen hood to early 60s. Home countries ranged just as broadly, with people from Brazil, the U.S., the U.K., India, Mexico and Columbia, among many others. Of these countries, Brazil was home to the largest number of victims of transphobic violence.
“I thought it was beautiful and, while it was small, I thought it was great,” Liliana Oliveria, a seventh-semester history major, said. “And just to hear the names of the victims was amazing, and their names should be said. And it was beautiful that we have that.”
The number of names that were read was astounding, taking nearly 20 minutes to say aloud. After the last name was read, the volunteers finished with a quote by Janet Mock.
“I believe that telling our stories, first to ourselves and then to one another and the world, is a revolutionary act,” Mock’s quote said. “It is an act that can be met with hostility, exclusion and violence. It can also lead to love, understanding, transcendence and community.”
Students were then asked to leave affirmations, such as “you are enough” or “we are not alone,” on a display of paper candles to help others fight against the oppression of transphobic violence. Many students lingered long after the quote was read to reflect on it silently.
“I think it was very important, I think it was a beautiful ceremony, but as a trans person, it is kind of a grim reminder of how many of us face this and how many of us don’t make it out of it,” Kaiden Allen, a first-semester technical theater and design major, said. “It’s scary to think about, it’s scary to see the numbers out right in front of you. We all go through this stuff, some of us very regularly, but it’s never something that you think, ‘Oh, this is going to be me one day.’”
Rebecca Maher is a senior staff writer for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.