We Remember

A photograph from last year's vigil for the victims of the Orlando shooting. No photographs were allowed at Tuesday's event. Lucy Gellman Photo.

A photograph from last year's vigil for the victims of the Orlando shooting. No photographs were allowed at Tuesday's event. Lucy Gellman Photo.

We are here to honor the dead, but a trans person’s life should not matter only when they become a headline. 

Mesha Caldwell, 41, of Canton, Miss. Sean Hake, 23, of Sharon, Penn. Jamie Lee Wounded Arrow, 28, of Sioux Falls. JoJo Striker, 23, in Toledo, Ohio. The names, read cleanly and clearly off a list, rang out over the New Haven Green. For a few minutes, they showed no sign of stopping. 25 trans lives that have been snuffed out in the past year, with dozens more not listed or unaccounted for. 

Tuesday afternoon, the reading marked an annual Transgender Day of Remembrance Vigil, held on the lower New Haven Green. Organized by the New Haven Pride Center (NHPC), Yale Office of LGBTQ Resources, the Yale Chaplain's Office, and Trans@Yale, the event took place as part of the NHPC’s Transgender Awareness Week. It is part of a new alliance between the NHPC and Yale Office of LGBTQ resources, whereby communities from both host, support and attend each other’s events.  

The NHPC and Party for Socialism and Liberation (PSL) will hold another rally and march Nov. 20, on the official Transgender Day of Remembrance. It will begin at the Elm Street Courthouse and include a march to the New Haven Pride Center, where a collection of individuals and resources will be assembled.

Standing in an oval Tuesday, 45 students and New Haveners alike gathered quietly, bowing their heads in a moment of silence before reading a series of pre-prepared remarks. Lighting small, electric candles, the group braved dropping temperatures to decry one of the deadliest years for the trans community, and offer support services like Trans Lifeline, a transgender support hotline by and for the transgender comunity.  

“Beloved,” read one participant at the event. “Be loved, and know that you are. We are here today to remember the fierce light and radiant darkness of the ones no longer with us, and to grapple with the lessening of ourselves in their absence.” 

Seth Wallace, assistant director for the Yale Office of LGBTQ Resources, submitted a series remarks following the vigil, after they were read on site. An excerpt is below. Names have been removed at the request of students and New Haveners who did not wish to be identified. Photography was not permitted at the event.  

“The transgender day of remembrance has been observed since 1999 as an essential reminder of the violence and social stigma that transgender and non-binary people face in their everyday lives,” said Wallace in an exchange after the event. “We are grateful to the 40-plus participants of this event for their support in ushering in a new era of collaboration between our groups, and a uniting of our efforts to increase support for our LGBTQ family.”

We, trans students [and student allies] of the New Haven community and of Yale, are here to honor our transgender siblings, on this day of remembrance and resilience. 

The Transgender Day of Remembrance was started by transgender advocate Gwendolyn Ann Smith as a vigil to honor the memory of Rita Hester, a transgender woman who was killed in 1998. The vigil commemorated all the transgender people lost to violence that year and began an important memorial that has become the annual Transgender Day of Remembrance.

Today is a day to remember those whom we’ve lost to transphobic violence, but it is also a day to come together to remember why we need to fight back against it. In a time when people in power threaten our existence and embolden those who wish us harm, it is imperative that we continue to fight for each other and together against the transmisogyny and racism that threaten so many among us.

As we read the names of those who have been lost because of transphobic and transmisogynistic violence, let us remember that violence against trans women cannot be separated from issues of race. Of these names read, most are those belonging to trans women of color.

In a statement made in 2014, #BlackLivesMatter said that the average age of a black trans woman is 35 years. Let’s make sure that our grief is not self-serving and that our anger is directed towards making positive social change. 

We are here to honor the dead, but a trans person’s life should not matter only when they become a headline. We should be active in speaking out against and defending people from racist, sexist, and transphobic violence. This day of mourning should not be the only day when trans people’s lives, especially trans women of color’s lives, are valued.

We want to share some information about violence against trans people, which disproportionately affects trans women of color.

This year, at least 25 trans people were murdered in the US, the most on record. They died violent deaths: many were shot, stabbed, beaten, or stoned.

A document created by the Trans People of Color Coalition and Human Rights Campaign puts forward the following information about the 53 trans people killed in the US between 2013 and 2015.

At least 46, or 87 percent were transgender people of color. Among those, at least 39 were African American and six were Latinx. At least 87 percent were trans women.

And these are just the deaths that are known. Others never make it onto lists like these because the police, the press, and family members misidentify the dead.

We would also like to recognize two other groups. Trans people murdered by the police may not be included in this count. And the list of names does not include trans people who have committed suicide this year.

Finally, these numbers do not include those who were killed outside of the United States this year. We should take a moment to remember that we are in a world seven billion strong—a world where the transphobia and homophobia that millions of gender-nonconforming individuals face is only compounded by imperialism, exploitation, poverty, and war.

This day serves as a sobering reminder to us that we are a long way away from equality, both in the U.S. and worldwide.  Still, it’s important—especially at times like these—not to lose hope.  Look around you; we are joined together as a community, united in our mutual caring and support of one another.

None of us is alone.  Across the U.S. and the world, there are countless groups working to improve living standards, fight civil right violations, and reduce threats of violence for trans*-identified people.  Some of these include the Audre Lorde Project, the TransWomen of Color Collective, The Sylvia Rivera Law Project, and La Casa Ruby.  

Many of these organizations cater specifically to Trans People of Color and other intersectional identities. If this event has left you feeling helpless, know that there are organizations working tirelessly for the cause.