Vigil honors victims of violence in transgender community
About 50 students gathered in the University of Michigan Union Monday night for Transgender Day of Remembrance, an event organized to commemorate those who have suffered or died this year as a result of anti-transgender hatred.
The event, which was part of the Spectrum Center’s Transgender Awareness Week 2016, featured a talk by LSA senior Ini Ubong, one of the co-chairs of TransForm, who assisted the Spectrum Center in organizing the week’s events. TransForm is an organization dedicated to providing resources, activism and support for the trans community at the University.
Ubong emphasized to attendees the importance of being an ally and standing up for the transgender community when it faces adversity.
“If you are not affected by trans misogyny, then what are you doing for the community, for the people in your lives that will be affected by it?” Ubong said.
Those who were remembered Monday night included Jazz Alford, 30, who was shot and killed in a hotel room in Birmingham, Ala. in September by a man who was also charged with shooting and robbing another transgender woman. Also remembered and named during the vigil was Kayden Clarke, 24, a transgender male from Mesa, Ariz. with Asperger’s who was killed by police officers following a domestic dispute.
Mari Brighe, Spectrum Center graduate communications coordinator and a contributor for The Advocate, the country’s oldest and largest LGBTQ publication, spoke as well. She discussed her experiences as a transgender issues writer for The Advocate and her goal to preserve the memories of those who have suffered or lost their lives because of their identity.
“During my time at The Advocate, it’s been a solemn duty of mine to ensure that those lives that have been so tragically taken by the forces of hate do not slip from this world in anonymity,” she said.
Brighe also detailed statistics about violence committed against transgender people and allies, including 26 murders in the United States and 295 across the world so far this year.
“All too often the vitriol spewed by transphobic bigots focuses on dehumanizing us,” she said. “These are human lives, not just tragic statistics.”
According to the Human Rights Campaign, at least 21 transgender people have died in 2016, most of them people of color. Brighe expressed fear that this number will grow, which she said has already been happening during President Barack Obama’s terms.
“Under President Obama, who has done more for our community than any president in history, we’ve seen rates of transgender violence grow year after year,” she said. “What can we expect with four years of President Trump? … How many more names are we going to have to read a year from now?”
Brighe said those against the transgender community have tried to demonize transgender people to pass laws that impact the community. She cited specific legislation that was passed this March in North Carolina, stating that people have to use the public bathroom aligning with their biological sex regardless of gender identity.
“When we’re nameless and faceless, it’s much easier to turn us into scary bathroom peeping monsters instead of just nice folks who occasionally need to pee someplace other than our homes,” she said.
The North Carolina law has faced heavy criticism and resulted in many high-profile canceled concerts and relocated sporting events. A similar law was proposed by Michigan state Sen. Tom Casperson (R–Escanaba) in June after a proposed recommendation from the state Department of Education that public schools allow transgender students to use the bathrooms with which they identify. The law, which has not been passed, would similarly restrict students to the restrooms corresponding to the sex listed on their birth certificate.
After Brighe spoke, the audience took to the Cube for a vigil while holding candles and strips of paper with the names of victims of anti-transgender violence on them, taking turns reading them aloud.
Spectrum Center Director Will Sherry said he hopes students reflect on their experience at the event and consider their positions in the community, especially when it comes to their safety and privilege.
“(Tonight was about) having a time to think about what safety means in their own lives, the ways in which they might feel unsafe, as well as the privileges that they might have and connect with someone else who can be a source of support when they need it,” he said.
Social Work student Jazz McGinnis, who attended the event, said he felt an obligation to come as a member of the transgender community.
“As a trans person, it’s very important for me to show up for my community and mourn the folks that we lost the past year,” he said.
McGinnis said he also felt that the University has made efforts to accommodate transgender students. According to the Campus Pride Index, the University was named one of the most LGBTQ-friendly schools in the country. However, McGinnis said he still does not feel comfortable with his identity on campus.
“The University has prioritized trans students and policies like gender inclusive bathrooms and made sure that folks can identify their correct pronouns … But I also think it’s still a struggle being here,” he said.