The Q Center hosted a vigil last Monday to remember and honor the lives of transgender individuals lost to acts of transphobic violence.
The vigil, which was held in the Multicultural Resource Center (MRC), marked the observation of Transgender Day of Remembrance on Nov. 20. Started by transgender activist Gwendolyn Ann Smith in 1999 to honor the memory of Rita Hester, a transgender woman who was murdered in 1998, the Day of Remembrance is held annually to honor all the victims of transphobic-motivated violence killed over the past year. According to the Human Rights Campaign, at least 41 lives were lost to anti-transgender violence in 2022 in the United States.
The Q Center hosted a name-reading ceremony to remember each reported individual who lost their life to anti-trans violence from October 2022 to November 2023 in the United States. There have been at least 393 reported victims of such hate-motivated violence worldwide, with 62 of these deaths occurring in the United States. Each vigil attendee was given an electric candle upon arrival.
Both Riya Bolander, a peer-mentor lead at the Q Center and a senior double-majoring in psychology and vocal performance, and Mansha Rahman, a sophomore double-majoring in chemistry and graphic design, began the vigil by offering a brief explanation of why Nov. 20 matters to the transgender community. Rahman noted the importance of recognizing how the global community is affected by transgender violence.
“It’s really important to acknowledge that even if it is just one or two in each country, it’s still so important to acknowledge that it [happens everywhere],” Rahman said. “When we were putting this presentation together, looking through all the victims of [trans] violence across the world was very difficult for [the] both of us. These are [people] who range from 13 to 52 all across the world, and they all have their own little stories.”
Bolander and Rahman then took turns reading the names of each American victim. Each individual was given a slide that included their name, birth date and location of their death. Two of those killed in acts of transphobic violence, Colin Smith and Michelle Peacock, were not transgender themselves, but they were still recognized at the vigil. Smith was a cisgender male who died protecting his transgender friend from a verbal assault and Peacock was a cisgender woman who was killed by her neighbor because they assumed she was transgender.
Rahman explained how the inclusion of these two individuals in the vigil served to highlight how such violence affects not just the transgender community, but society at large.
“Two [or three of the] people were people who identified as cisgender but [were] killed when protecting their trans friends or [defending them],” Rahman said. “Trans violence and anti[-trans] legislation is harming every single person, not just members of the [transgender] community, so that’s also really important to acknowledge on this day.”
After all of the names were read, the Reverend Douglas Taylor of the Binghamton Unitarian Universalist Congregation was invited to speak. While Taylor acknowledged that he is a cisgender man, he expressed his grief for the violence that the transgender community has experienced.
“We take a moment with the grief of the loss [after] the names that we have heard,” Taylor spoke. “We are grateful for the community around us and for the support we can receive from people who are with us on this journey — and the ways we can offer support to those who are on this journey as well.”
After the Reverend finished his blessing, all of the attendees switched on their candles and sat together in a moment of silence to honor the victims. Following this, attendees were able to converse with one another while enjoying refreshments and engaging with the community.
Bolander reflected on how being part of the vigil made a personal impact on them.
“I enjoyed the [Transgender Day of Remembrance] vigil, because I really appreciate that people came out to honor trans lives that we have lost,” Bolander wrote. “As a presenter and someone who made the slide, the vigil was also heartbreaking to be a part of because of the exposure to the hundreds of trans people who died to violence in the past year. People don’t realize that it is still such a difficult thing to experience, especially when lawmakers across the country are trying to turn you and others like you into villains and take away your rights.”
Transgender and gender-nonconforming students who need assistance can access a wide variety of on-campus resources. The Q Center provides a multitude of resources and connections, as well as a safe space for students and the campus community.
“We [have] connections to a myriad of resources on- and off-campus, anyone can [direct message] our Instagram account — @qcenterbing — and can come by the space if they have any more questions,” Rahman wrote in an email. “I highly recommend talking to one of our professional staff for resources if anyone chooses to come by the space.”