This past Sunday (Nov. 20th) marked the 13th annual International Transgender Day of Remembrance. My partner and I were on the planning committee for our area’s Trans* Week of Awareness and TDoR this year. It has been a remarkable experience: I have learned a great deal; I’ve had the chance to meet and get to know so many amazing people; and I am excited to continue participating in the LGBTQ activist community here in the area.
For the vigil itself, we used balloons rather than candles – which turned out to be a good way to go as we were forced to hold the vigil inside due to inclement weather. We place LED lights inside purple balloons. As people walked in for the ceremony, they were given a program with a name across the top and given a balloon. When it was time to read the names of those murdered for being Trans*, the lights were turned off and those in attendance were asked to hold the balloons down in their laps until the name they were assigned was called… at which point they (still holding on to the string attached to the balloon, of course) would release their balloon and let it float. The visual was jarring: beautiful and heartbreaking.
I was asked by the president of SIENNA – the largest Trans* group in our area – to speak during the vigil we held for TDoR. I knew that I wanted there to be something hopeful about TDoR, and that was the focus of my speech… Hope should walk alongside sorrow, else we risk becoming mired in sorrow. Hope leads us forward. I don’t do public speaking very well… so I was a shaky, uncoordinated, voice-cracking nervous wreck. But this is the gist of what I said:
This evening we are gathered here to honor the lives lost this year – and all years past – because of bigotry, fear and hatred. We are here to memorialize those whose lives were stolen from them because someone did not approve of their gender identity and expression. Each of the people we honor here tonight touched the world by being in it; and their absence leaves its mark as well. With each balloon lit here – and candles lit across the nation, and around the world – we are shining a light on their lives and illuminating the hatred and darkness that violently took these people from this world.
While today is a day to mourn and a day to memorialize the lives of these human beings who were murdered because they were trying to live lives true to who they knew they were, let us also use this day to foster and grow hope. Hope can be found, even on days like today: though we are mourning the loss of 23 lives of Trans* individuals around the world – not including those whose deaths have not been reported, or whose murders were not confirms to be due to their gender identity and expression, or those who have suffered so much harassment and hate that they took their own lives. There are simply too many… But, over time, we have seen the numbers dropping – this is cause for hope. We stand here, united as a community today: students, educators, community members, community leaders, activists, allies, Trans*, cis, queer and straight – this is cause for hope. We are having discussions, asking questions and learning from one another – this is cause for hope.
So, as we read these names and hold their lives in our thoughts and in our hearts, take the time to mourn. Take the time to acknowledge the darkness that took these people from their families, friends and communities. Take the time to acknowledge the darkness their absence has left. But please, also take the time to be hopeful. Take the time to look forward to a future that is full of love, affirmation, respect and light. Take the time to renew your commitment to that future. Take the time to hope.
For more information about TDoR, please visit http://www.transgenderdor.org/ – for more information on Trans* Week of Awareness, see your local LGBTQ organizations and universities in your area.