In honor of Transgender Day of Remembrance, Bay Area LGBTQ advocates on Monday held an emotional vigil to honor the record number of transgender people who were killed in the last year.
About 40 people gathered at Todos Santos Plaza in Concord at 6:30 p.m. Faith leaders and representatives from the Rainbow Community Center took turns reading the names of the 25 trans-identifying people known to have been killed so far in 2017, most whom were trans women of color.
Some attendees who came to vigils in the past said the mood at this year’s memorial was especially somber. The trans community faced numerous setbacks since last year’s ceremony, from a federal administration that has attempted to bar trans folks from serving in the military to the elimination of some protections for trans youth in schools.
“Unfortunately the violence against transgender people has risen in the past year, and unlike previous years where I thought we were making progress finally, this year we’ve had a number of blows to us," said attendee Michelle Paquette. "I hoped I would not see that in my lifetime, but it has come again.”
The Human Rights Campaign said 25 is the highest number of such deaths ever recorded in a year. At least 23 transgender people were killed in 2016, the group says. Like previous years, the majority of victims were black transgender women. The youngest victim was just 17 years old; the oldest was 59.
“We need to recognize that transgender people still face a lot of discrimination, harassment, and violence,” said Robyn Kuslits, Director of Programs at the Rainbow Community Center.
Still, Kuslits credits the increasing visibility and acceptance the trans community received locally in 2017 with buoying her outlook for the future. The 2017 remembrance vigil is, so far, the most well-attended event the community center hosted, she said.
There have also been significant gains as groups across the country mobilize and become more politically active in opposing the Trump administration’s agenda, said attendee Crystal Bellevue. She cited the Nov. 7 election that saw Danica Roem, a trans woman in Virginia, elected to the state legislature.
“I’m not going to downplay it,” Bellevue said. “ It’s been a bad, bad year. But there have been a few silver linings, with the community coming together and being more active. The election of Danica Roem, the donations being made to organizations that fight for our rights. Those are bright spots.”
Local politicians also acknowledged the event, which started in 1999 in San Francisco after the murder of Rita Hester, a transgender woman. Since then memorials have spread to more than 200 cities. San Francisco City Hall was lit up in pink, white and blue colors in an homage to the Trans Pride flag on Monday evening.
“We must shatter the unconscionable silence and unforgivable inaction that allow injustice against transgender people to endure,” Nancy Pelosi said in a statement.
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson also acknowledged the event in a statement, a move that some advocacy groups and commenters on social media said surprised them given the recent rollback of protections.
“Transgender individuals and their advocates, along with lesbian, gay, bisexual and intersex persons, are facing increasing physical attacks and arbitrary arrests in many parts of the world,” Tillerson said in the statement. Often these attacks are perpetrated by government officials, undermining the rule of law.”
As the event came to a close, the attendees spoke about continuing to live life as their “authentic selves” and continue to fight against transphobia.
“At the end of the day, if I believe who I am on the inside, if I love the person I am and I’m happy, then all of those negative comments and all of that negative energy instantly deflects,” said Carla Cassandra. “I know who I am.”