A moment of silence fell across the University of Michigan Diag on Monday night as students and Ann Arbor residents gathered for a candlelight vigil to commemorate those who lost their lives or suffered as a result of transphobic-motivated violence. The vigil took place on the internationally recognized Transgender Day of Remembrance, the finale of Transgender Awareness Week.
LSA senior Emily Kaufman, president of LGBT+ Michigan, organized the event to raise awareness for the struggles her trans community deals with. She said too many people are unaware of the systemic violence transgender people face, which is something she hopes to change.
“Transgender Day of Remembrance is really important for me as a transgender woman because it’s the only day that is really dedicated to remembering the lives lost,” she said.
The vigil is especially significant this year, as Kaufman said 2017 marks the deadliest year on record for transgender individuals, with 25 transgender people murdered in the United States and 350 worldwide. These victims were disproportionately transgender people of color at 84 percent. Three of these murders took place in Texas, where there is no statewide law banning discrimination based on gender identity as a hate crime.
Kaufman, along with several other board members from LGBT+ Michigan, read the names and stories of the 25 individuals who lost their lives in the United States this year and expressed their belief that each “rest in power.” Kaufman explained many of these individuals, among these 47-year-old Stephanie Montez and 41-year-old Mesha Caldwell, were misgendered in initial reports, which Kaufman she said is the “ultimate disrespect.”
Ally Steinfeld, a 17-year-old transgender teen from Missouri, was killed in September of this year. Her story was especially striking to Kaufman.
“The way in which my little sister Ally was murdered galvanized me to take action,” Kaufman said. “Her murder made me furious and heartbroken. I realized I had to do this kind of event after that.”
Those who attended the vigil included LGBTQ individuals and allies, all of whom hoped to bring awareness to transphobia prevalent in society and to advocate for the trans community.
LSA sophomore Rachel Arone said she attended the event to stand up as an advocate for transgender individuals.
“I have some very close friends who are trans and who have suffered from the rampant transphobia in our society,” she said. “I want to do anything I can to support and be present as someone who has a voice when so many trans voices are silenced.”
LSA sophomore Christine MacKenzie also attended the vigil in support of the transgender community.
“I’ve known several trans people during the process of their transition,” she said. “I’ve learned about their struggles mentally, physically and societally, and it is so important to be there in support even if (transphobia) doesn’t affect you directly.”
Kaufman concluded the vigil with a reading from her book, “From Death to Life,” a collection of poems about her experience as a transgender woman. She told those in attendance to look toward the future to continue making a difference.
“I want people to come out every day and call out transphobia when they see it, to stand up for our civil rights and our liberties so we are treated with some semblance of equality in society,” she said. “I want everyone here who is not trans to remember the names that were said tonight and to understand that the work that we do does not end tonight. It starts today.”