Northland observes Transgender Day of Remembrance
In the darkness, candlelight flickered on the faces of people listening to the names of 295 transgender people killed in the past year.
Many of those 295 people were anonymous in their deaths, their passing noted only as "name not reported, age not reported."
Some were as young as 17 and some were as old as 60, organizers said, the victims of violence in California and Pennsylvania, as well as Mexico, Brazil, the United Kingdom, France, India and Japan.
In front of the crowd of 75 people gathered for the vigil at the University of Minnesota Duluth, hosted by the university's Queer and Allied Student Union on Tuesday, white paper bags lit with candles were decorated with messages: "You are loved." "You are valid." "You are enough."
The vigil was the inaugural gathering at UMD to mark Transgender Day of Remembrance. The crowd observed a moment of silence for transgender people who have been killed, for those who have committed suicide and for those "fighting every day to not be a name on this list," said Roze Brooks, who works as the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender services coordinator at UMD.
The outcome of last week's presidential election was weighing on the minds of those in attendance on Tuesday. People called for both sticking together and recognizing the support they receive as the country moves from the administration of President Barack Obama to that of President-elect Donald Trump, after a campaign season which included rhetoric directed at minority groups.
"Even though we know this violence takes place, the pervasiveness of it is on folks' mind a lot more in light of the election," Brooks said.
Charlie Johnson, a senior at UMD, said he's seen people saying that minority groups have nothing to worry about during a Trump presidency, and that some are calling those expressing fear "crybabies." However, Johnson said his friends have been harassed on campus and they can't sleep, are losing weight and can't do their schoolwork due to their anxiety.
"Our fears are real and they are valid," he said. "If you feel comfortable enough, speak out. If you feel safe enough, be visible. If you have the energy, be strong. But most of all, do what you need to do to take care of yourself."
Johnson said he feels scared for his safety and has a lot of questions about what the Trump presidency will mean for him as a transgender man.
"Will I be able to receive proper access to health care? Will I be protected from discrimination in future jobs? Will I one day be able to change my name and gender marker legally? Will I be able to marry the person that I love? Will I be able to start a family with this person?" he asked. "I am frightened by not having the answers and I am frightened for having to ask these questions in the first place."
He said that for the allies of the transgender community, attending the vigil at UMD is a first step, and he called for people to do everything in their power to protect transgender family members and friends.
"These are uncertain times and we need all the support we can get," he said. "Love us fiercely and unconditionally. Write letters. Speak out when you see hate. Do not be a bystander. Check in with us. Offer us resources and safe spaces. Offer to walk us home if we don't feel safe. Help us to fund our surgeries and name changes. Safety pins are not enough."
Brooks suggested that people can be more inclusive in how they talk, ask which pronouns a person uses, don't assume a person uses a given pronoun based on how they look, and educate themselves about issues that affect transgender people.
Several more events are planned for this month to acknowledge Transgender Day of Remembrance in the region.
A vigil is planned for 1 p.m. Sunday at the Duluth Congregational Church, 3833 E. Superior St., followed by a performance by One Voice Mixed Chorus at 2 p.m. at the church. The chorus is also performing Friday in Ely and Saturday in Mountain Iron as part of its Hand in Hand Tour.
A vigil is planned for 4-5 p.m. Sunday at the corner of Lake Avenue and Superior Street in Duluth.
The University of Wisconsin-Superior's Gender Equity Resource Center is hosting a Coffee House, including a panel of trans-identified people and allies, from noon until 1 p.m. next Tuesday in room 1031 at Swenson Hall.