A vigil was held to memorialize the 309 people who have died from violence against transgender individuals this year for the International Transgender Day of Remembrance.
The International Transgender Day of Remembrance began in 1999 after the 1998 murder of transgender woman Rita Hester. It is held annually on Nov. 20 has expanded to nearly 200 cities across the United States and around the globe. Cornell typically holds its vigil the week before Thanksgiving to accomodate for students’ traveling.
The vigil, held in the Anabel Taylor Chapel, was designed as a space for transgender and gender non-conforming individuals and their allies to grieve for those lost, but also to bring resilience to the community. The vigil was hosted by the Cornell LGBT Resource Center, which has held the event every year for a decade.
Following the vigil’s tradition in past years, Reverend Taryn Mattice opened the vigil by reflecting on transgender issues.
“I believe we’re all created for good. Our bodies are for loving and it felt important to say that,” Mattice told The Sun.
Members of the community read poems about transgender experiences and struggles to a group of nearly 40 people, and Jazz Voices, a student music group, performed songs in between the poems. Christopher Lujan, director of the LGBT Resource Center, said that he wanted to balance the solemn tone of the event with music.
The candle ceremony was a centerpiece of the vigil. For every 15 names read aloud, a candle was lit in the center of the chapel stage.
However, the 309 deaths accounted for are an underestimate for the actual number of people killed from of transphobic violence, according to Lujan. The names don’t include information from countries like China, which has a history of unreported LGBTQ+ discrimination.
“[The vigil] is just a way to make sure that we’re bringing light to just the devastating violence that happens against trans individuals,” Lujan told The Sun.
At the end of the event, a reception was held so attendees could enjoy refreshments and talk to other members of the transgender community and their allies. Lujan wanted to end the evening with the community gathering in support and hope.
“We need events like this to remind ourselves that we need to stay vigilant … to remind the rest of the world that a human life is lost,” Vanessa Taylor, from the Ithaca Transgender Group, told The Sun.