Students and staff honor victims of transgender violence at vigil

Rishika Dugyala, Reporter

Northwestern community members convened Friday night to commemorate lives lost to anti-transgender violence for the Transgender Day of Remembrance vigil.

While chanting “Say their name” after each victim was identified, about 20 students and faculty gathered at The Rock cupped their palms around the flames of their candles to protect them from the first snowfall of the year.

“The importance of the candles — they represent that those we have lost, we keep their spirits with us,” said Jordan Turner, assistant director at Multicultural Student Affairs. “If you guard the candle, you guard their spirits.”

Turner organized this year’s vigil with help from Counseling and Psychological Services, Religious and Spiritual Life and Rainbow Alliance. Turner said this year there have been more transgender homicide victims than in previous years.

Associate university chaplain Jackie Marquez began the vigil with a few words on grieving and healing.

“We can emerge from mourning with a strength that we could have never have imagined we had inside of us,” Marquez said. “We will continue to live in holy defiance and fight for justice.”

This is the first time a representative from Religious and Spiritual Life has spoken at the annual vigil, said Medill senior Bo Suh, co-president of Rainbow Alliance. Marquez touched on the importance of solidarity, partly because religion is one of the main reasons people struggle with their identity, Suh said.

After the reading of the victim’s names, those who were present at the event were invited to share their thoughts and experiences.

“All these people died because of transphobia,” Natalie Vega, a Weinberg freshman, said at the vigil. “And if we’re not working actively to call out these issues… we are complicit in their murders and we are complicit in their death and in all the violence against them.”

After the vigil concluded, most relocated to Norris University Center for an informal discussion in the Gender and Sexuality Resource Center with hot chocolate and apple cider.

Jod Taywaditep, the associate director for training at CAPS, attended the discussion to tell students he and his colleagues are available to speak with students about transgender issues.

However, the students spearheaded the discussion itself, sharing their thoughts on how to improve the Greek life system, how to help their transgender friends get home safely and how to create a safer environment on campus.

Suh said it is important to note that transwomen of color in particular are systemically attacked and persecuted for their identity. Anti-transgender violence is an issue that not only deals with transphobia, but also with factors of race and class that are specific to the transgender experience, Suh said.

College campuses across the nation are holding similar vigils for the Transgender Day of Remembrance, Turner said. The vigils help empower the transgender community and ensure that the victims of violence are not forgotten, despite the lack of news coverage, Turner added.

“Just planning and preparing for this event was really difficult,” Turner said. “Seeing their names but also seeing their faces and their stories… They were people, they had people that cared about them, and they were taken from this world because of who they were.”

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