Ashley He / Sun Staff Photographer

Students light candles representing lives lost in the past year at the Transgender Remembrance Vigil.

November 19, 2019

Transgender Day of Remembrance Vigil Commemorates Hundreds of Lives Lost In The Past Year

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A moving vigil incoporating poems, music and a 45-minute candle lighting ceremony memorialized the 370 lives lost due to anti-transgender hatred or prejudice over the past year for the International Transgender Day of Remembrance.

The International Transgender Day of Remembrance was first held in 1999 to commemorate the life of Rita Hester, who was murdered on Nov. 28th 1998. Since then, it is held annually on Nov 20th to raise awareness of hate crimes against transgender people. Not every person honored during the ceremony self-identified as transgender, but each was a victim of violence perpetrated against transgender people.

The vigil Tuesday evening was held in Anabel Taylor Chapel and was organized by Cornell’s LGBTQ Resource Center with the support of several campus and Ithaca-based groups. The LGBTQ center has organized the annual vigil for the last decade.

During the candle-lighting ceremony, each candle represented 15 lives lost with one additional large candle lit in the end to honor all those whose names were not captured on the list and to also honor all those who had been lost before.

For each of the 370 incidents in which a life was lost, the person’s name was read out with the city, state and country. The impact of this violence has been felt worldwide — with locations as close to Cornell as New York state and as far away as Argentina, India and Australia.

Reverend Taylor Daynes of the Epsicopal Church at Cornell stressed why acknowledging the names of these victims was so important.

“Names hold power, they signify who you are and how you are known. The lives attached to these names have been stolen, but their names will still be spoken and … may the candles we light be beacons for us as we remember them,” said Daynes.

The ceremony also included original poems by Jasmine Reid grad which shed light on trans experiences and performances by the Ithaca Gay Men’s Chorus that resonated with many in the audience, moving them to tears.

This year was the first that included Ithaca community members performing the music at the vigil, with previous years having featured Cornell student groups like the Jazz Voices, according to Crissi Dalfonzo, assistant director of the LGBT Resource Center.

Sam Kwan, director of the Ithaca Gay Men’s Chorus, spoke to The Sun after the ceremony about how important it was to them to have a supportive community in the chorus that allows people of diverse genders to be vulnerable and make music together.

“Especially knowing the statistic of how many people don’t have safe spaces, but then really like being faced with it in such a tangible way — I just feel very blessed and lucky to have these wonderful singers and such a great group,” Kwan said.

In an interview with The Sun, Vanessa Taylor from the Ithaca Transgender Group also highlighted the important role that events like the vigil play for the transgender — as well as the broader cisgender — communities because it sends a message that “we are here and we are just like you.”

Taylor also believes the vigil serves as a reminder to the transgender community of what has passed before and how that can lead to them being vigilant about the future, while also being hopeful for change.

Foula Dimopoulous, advisor for the Office of Academic Diversity Initiatives, gave the closing remarks for the ceremony, reminding those gathered of their responsibility to continue the fight against the oppression that the trans community continues to face.

“We the living, we remain to fight. We will not go quietly into the good night. By utilizing our voice, our votes — we have to fight against violence, oppression and invisibility,”  Dimopoulous said.

Dimopoulous also thanked all the trans individuals who had congregated in the room to commemorate the lives of their 370 trans siblings, mostly women of color.

“You choose to be seen in a world that thinks we should not exist. Our presence in this room is magnificent,” ze said.