Content warning: This article contains mentions of violence against transgender individuals.
Sixty-two faces flashed across the screen in the Pendleton Ballroom of the Michigan Union at the annual Trans Day of Remembrance Banquet. Under each picture, there was a name, age, date of death and, for some, a cause of death listed. After every name was read off, a member of the University of Michigan’s Spectrum Center walked up to an altar at the front of the room and placed a red rose in a vase. Sixty-two roses later, the screen faded to black, displaying the following statement: “Trans lives matter. Say their names.”
More than 60 community members gathered in the Union Monday to grieve the lives lost because of anti-transgender violence this past year. Hosted by the Spectrum Center, the event hosted three speakers who talked about trans identities and violence against trans people and asked attendees to write messages of support for the trans community on a quilt.
Transgender Day of Remembrance was started in 1999 by advocate Gwendolyn Ann Smith in honor of her friend Rita Hester, a Black trans woman who was murdered the year prior. Ange Baldado, a therapist at the Radical Well-Being Center in Southfield, spoke at the event about how Trans Day of Remembrance must not only remember those lost to anti-trans violence but also honor trans history, present and future.
“We cannot let today be a day where we just remember the dead,” Baldado said. “Our politics of memory can be filled with so much more: a remembrance of our history, a remembrance of the people who came before us and a remembrance of the lives that could’ve happened. It is in these memories that we can hold gratitude for the gains we’ve made today and hold a collective rage to fight for a better tomorrow.”
Ann Arbor has honored Nov. 20 as Trans Day of Remembrance since 2003. Tristan Morton, associate director of the Spectrum Center, who uses ze/zir pronouns, told The Michigan Daily before the event that ze believes knowing trans history is impactful in understanding the community and its longevity.
“It is always good to learn and understand that history because you’re not the only one,” Morton said. “There are folks still alive doing this work that have been supportive of our community for decades.”
Organizers of Monday’s event covered an altar at the front of the room with pink, blue, white, black and brown origami flowers to represent trans people, including trans people of Color, around the world. Crystals, candles and a stuffed animal dinosaur symbolizing comfort, love and strength were placed next to a display of books by trans authors. After reading off the names of the victims of trans violence and a subsequent moment of silence, attendees wrote messages on square scraps of multicolored cloth and glued them together to create a quilt. Some of the messages included affirmations such as “We will not be erased,” “You are loved,” “Joy is your birthright” and “Someday.”
Morton said the Spectrum Center will hang the quilt in their office and plans to digitize it so people can view the messages online.
Twenty-four years after the first Trans Day of Remembrance, anti-trans violence still affects individuals worldwide.
Three hundred twenty-one transgender and genderqueer people were killed between Oct. 1, 2022, and Sept. 30, 2023, according to the Trans Murder Monitoring research project. Anti-trans violence also disproportionately harms people of Color, with 80% of the 321 killed being people of Color. Additionally, 94% of the victims were trans women or transfeminine people.
Morton explained the importance of considering intersectionality when thinking about trans experiences and violence against trans people.
“Intersectionality is a term that describes how folks with multiple marginalized identities are being oppressed,” Morton said. “So understanding that the experience, for example, of a Black woman experiencing oppression is going to be vastly different from a Black man experiencing oppression.”
At the event, LSA junior Jamy Lee spoke to The Daily about the sense of injustice she felt hearing about the violence so many trans people have experienced.
“We already knew this was a problem,” Lee said. “But if we are convincing 14-year-old kids that they don’t deserve a place in this world, that’s really frustrating and another reason why we should continue to say their names.”
Morton also expressed zirs frustration about the rise in anti-trans legislation in the U.S., but maintained faith that the trans community will continue to stay strong.
“Trans and non-binary people are not going to be legislated away,” Morton said. “We’ve existed before legislation and will exist after legislation.”