About 40 people gathered to commemorate the 12th annual Transgender Day of Remembrance Monday evening at the University of Michigan’s Trotter Multicultural Center in honor of lives that have been lost as a result of transphobia in the past year, and to acknowledge and discuss experiences of transgender and nonbinary people.
The event was organized by the Spectrum Center as part of Transgender Awareness Week. It was followed by a candlelight vigil in the Diag in honor of those who have died in the past year.
Spectrum Center Director Will Sherry gave the opening remarks. He discussed the importance of remembering those that who been killed, as well as protecting and honoring those who are still alive. At the University, approximately 1 percent of the student body identifies as transgender or gender nonconforming, according to results from the diversity, equity and inclusion campus climate survey.
“Our individual and collective work must honor and deeply listen to the realities of people’s experiences navigating and confronting violence that’s continually perpetuated through actions and systems and structures,” Sherry said. “It’s essential to recognize the lives that have been taken and it’s also incredibly important to honor those that are here in the face of violence every day.”
Social Work student Alex Kime expressed the same sentiment.
“Even though it’s incredibly important to honor those that we lose, more honor should be paid and recognized to the trans and gender nonconforming folks that are still alive,” Kime said. “There can be this dangerous foregrounding of all queerness as a sight of tragedy or as something that is inextricably and already ruined in some way.”
After his opening remarks, Sherry introduced LSA senior Emily Kaufman, president of LGBT Michigan, who talked about the challenges she faces every day as a trans woman.
“I tell people that I don’t think I’ll make it out of my twenties without personally knowing a transgender woman who is murdered,” Kaufman said.
Next to speak was Information student Vidhya Aravind. She had two sets of remarks, one aimed toward her transgender peers and one in which she addressed everyone. In her remarks for everyone, she named days she would rather celebrate rather than the Transgender Day of Remembrance, including “trans day of doing literally anything else because we all already know that trans people die all the time,” and “trans day of giving a shit about us while we’re still alive.” Aravind received laughter and support from attendees after her remarks.
After Aravind spoke, two students and members of the LGBTQ community read the known names of each transgender and gender nonbinary person to have died in the world in the past year. After each name was read, the audience was asked to repeat the phrase “rest in power” to signify the deaths that occurred in a socially unjust way. After all the names were read — which took half an hour in sum — attendees paused for a moment of silence.
Rackham student LaVelle Ridley, who was on the planning committee for the event, gave closing remarks. She stressed the importance of remembering transgender issues are intersectional.
“We have to remember that also indigenous American trans women, disabled trans women, non-Western trans women, women from the global south, such as Brazil, and incarcerated trans women also face high rates of death and violence,” LaVelle said.
She concluded her remarks with a call to action and a quote from scholar Sarah Langley.
“Our task is to move from sympathy to responsibility, from complicity to reflectivity, from witnessing to action. It is not enough to simply honor the memory of the dead; we must transform the practices of the living,” LaVelle finished.