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Ariel Keener (back) and Maddie Moore (front) embrace each other during a vigil held in honor of Transgender Day of Remembrance in Baker University Center on Wednesday, Nov. 20, 2019.

Vigil commemorates transgender lives lost in the past year

Twenty-three transgender people were killed in the U.S. in 2019. On Wednesday night, 23 easels displayed each victim’s photo and their story on the fourth floor of Baker Center.

About 50 people were in attendance for the vigil, which was organized by the Ohio University LGBT Center as part of the 20th Transgender Day of Remembrance.

Theodore Hutchinson, a speaker at the event, said the easels were displayed with the idea that the lives they commemorated once took up space in the world.

“These powerful people we honor today acted,” Hutchinson, an associate professor of critical studies and education, said. “They lived their lives as who they are and they paid the ultimate price, but they did not really pay the ultimate price...The ultimate price they never forfeited and forever remains is they held their dignity.”

The victims on the easels ranged from California to Maryland. The easels also included stories from those close to the victims. 

Students and local residents were selected to read out loud the name of each victim along with their story. The names of 31 transgender people who were killed around the world were also read.

Hutchinson reminded the audience that the victims named today were only reported cases, and the actual number of victims from violence against transgender people could be much higher.

After each name was read, Hutchinson rang a chime to honor the life of the victim.

“As the sound blasts, think of their soul, think of their spirit, their energy, flying on that space of sound and say ‘You’re around us, we see you and honor you,’” Hutchinson said.

Hutchinson rang the chimes three times in a row to signify the end of the readings.

Tiffany Alex Anderson, a senior studying women’s gender and sexuality studies, was also invited to speak at the event. Anderson urged event attendees to stand up as allies for transgender people.

“We can not afford to be silent when lives are at stake. Silence has no place in the fight for the equitable treatment of trans people,” Anderson said. “Now, more than ever, we need you to step up and bring attention to the violence that is happening toward our community,”

Audience members were invited to share their thoughts at the podium at the end of the scheduled activities. 

Oliver, who prefers to not use a last name and a sophomore studying history, said he was grateful to be in a safe place like OU, especially after the murder of a transgender woman in his hometown of Cleveland.

“Hearing that someone from the community was shot and killed in practically my own backyard was devastating and terrifying to hear,” Oliver said.

Other speakers also shared personal stories of coming out and falling in love as well as stories of unaccepting families and fears of discrimination. 

Transgender, intersex, gender queer, gender fluid, non-binary pride, and agender flags were hung in above the Baker Center escalators as part of the event.

Ser Spinelli, a senior studying studio art and media art studies, said it took him about 25 to 30 hours to sew the flags, but the work paid off.

“I’m still processing it, it’s incredible (to see them displayed),” he said. “It feels amazing I was able to do something so meaningful and impactful.”

Jan Huebenthal, the assistant director of the LGBT center, said the event was very successful.

“I think it’s incredibly heartening to see the turnout and see this very visible display of solidarity,” Huebenthal said. “I think that was evidence too by how many people were moved to speak after the official portion of the program so I think this was a great success.”

Heubenthal said he would like to see the event occur again next year.

Before the event concluded, Hutchinson returned to the podium to share some lasting thoughts.

“This is also a transgender day of resilience,” Hutchinson said. “The lives you see around you, they were here as well. I’ll say it again, we’re here, we’re queer and we refuse to give in to fear.”


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