Story by Sam Long | Assistant Editor
Photos courtesy of MT Lambda Instagram page
The small crowd gathered in the glow of the pink, blue and white lights in front of the Student Union building, huddling together to keep from the bite of the late-November cold.
As the somber quiet began to settle, Dr. Marisa Richmond, adjunct History and Women’s and Gender Studies professor, walked up to the dimly lit tent and began to speak.
“I am an out and proud, Black transgender woman,” she said.
LGBTQ+ and ally campus organization MT Lambda hosted the Transgender Day of Remembrance memorial Saturday, Nov. 20 to honor transgender and gender nonconforming individuals who have died at the hands of hate and violence.
Started in 1999 by transgender advocate Gwendolyn Smith, the day was established to honor the memory of Rita Hester, a transgender woman who was killed the year prior.
The vigil was created to honor her memory in addition to others lost to violence, thus coming to be known as “Transgender Day of Remembrance.”
This year’s memorial comes at a somber time in transgender history, with almost 47 individuals lost since last year.
Dr. Richmond stressed that this was the deadliest year on record for transgender and gender nonconforming people in history and that the country had set new records this year for anti-transgender legislation being introduced.
According to the 2021 Human Rights Campaign Epidemic of Violence Report, 25 anti-LGBTQ+ bills have been enacted, with 13 anti-transgender specific laws across 8 states. More than 130 anti-transgender bills were introduced across 33 states this year alone, with 12 coming from the state of Tennessee.
“We keep doing everything we can to address the violence, but it doesn’t stop. The visceral hatred continues,” she said.
Dr. Richmond stressed that anyone can be subject to violence, including friends and allies of transgender individuals, but that people of color are those most vulnerable.
Transgender people are four times more likely to be victims of a violent crime, and transgender people of color are alarmingly and disproportionately impacted. Black transgender women specifically make up 66 percent of all victims of deadly violence against transgender individuals.
In the face of violence, the community gathered to be with each other and to provide support to one another.
“I am here as a friend, as an ally, as a supporter, even if you just need a shoulder to cry on,” Dr. Richmond said.
Paper bag lanterns with the victims’ names displayed from years 1970 to 2021 were arranged all around the commons to honor the lives of those who have passed. Attendees were encouraged to take self-guided tours at their own pace to view the names and stories listed.
MT Lambda president Adam Peavy took a moment to look around the commons before he spoke, sighing into the microphone, “Whenever I looked at these bags and all of these names, I realized that it could have been me.”
Several members of MT Lambda spoke, recounting their own experiences with being part of the trans and gender nonconforming community and what the day signified for each of them.
“All the people who are gathered here today to celebrate the lives of people who came to an untimely end for who they were, who they were born and who they were always going to be,” said MT Lambda webmaster and junior psychology student Zofia Zagalsky.
“While it’s a sad day, it’s also a very nice day to have the community come together to almost rally behind the issue and be visible to the community, that we are out here and there are people who care,” she said.
Fellow ally and forensic science student Julie McDowell, who also spoke at the vigil, understood the responsibility that allies are called to undertake to help support the trans and gender nonconforming community.
“I am not trans and I’m not gender nonconforming but I think the best thing you can do is listen and raise the voices of those who are trans and gender nonconforming,” she said.
“We definitely do have a responsibility to address what is an issue.”
The vigil fell on the same day as MTSU’s senior day and home football game against Old Dominion University. As the foot traffic began to spill out from the game’s end, Peavy said that while others may be able to continue with the day as normal, he wouldn’t be.
“I do know that a lot of people can look at today and just think it’s some regular day, but it’s not just some regular day,” Peavy said. “We take the time.”
“We take the time to look at the names. We take the time to think about what has been done and what we need to avoid in the future and what we need to stop so it doesn’t happen again.”
For those in need of support during this challenging time, please find several LGBTQ+ specific mental health resources below:
Trans Lifeline: (877) 565-8860
The Trevor Project: 866-4U-TREVOR
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-8255
To contact Lifestyles Editor Ethan Pickering, email email@example.com.
For more news, visit www.mtsusidelines.com, or follow us on Facebook at MTSU Sidelines or on Twitter at @Sidelines_News