During a brisk evening on November 20, members of the New Haven, Connecticut community donned their masks to gather on the New Haven Green in commemoration of yet another Transgender Day of Remembrance.
The ring of candles surrounding the park’s central flagpole emitted a soft glow as supporters of the community slowly spread out across the green to observe the yearly vigil. Led by members of the New Haven Pride Center and the Party for Socialism and Liberation, around 30 people gathered to pay their respects to those within the transgender community whose lives have been tragically claimed by transphobic violence in 2020.
So far, there have been 37 officially reported homicides of transgender or gender non-conforming people in the United States since January — a marked increase over the 25 homicides from 2019. National surveys report that 84 percent of victims were trans women. The victims were overwhelmingly people of color, comprising 85 percent of all those lost. Black trans women account for 66 percent of those killed in 2020.
The proceedings began with trans activist and PSL member Karleigh Webb pointing back at a banner that read, Trans Rights Are Human Rights, and saying “I look forward to the day when the words on this flag, when our humanity, is fully affirmed in all places at all times.”
Despite the evening being a moment of melancholy reflection, many of the speakers at the event looked to how they can affect change in the present. Eliot Olson of the New Haven Pride Center recalled the words of a friend he had heard from a previous TDOR, “When we say the names of those we’ve lost later tonight, that is not the first time we should be mentioning their names. Supporting them in their livelihood should be the first time that we mention their names.”
Local organizers then led the solemn crowd in calling out the names, ages and cities of the 37 trans people murdered in the United States since January. One by one the names of those lost drifted across the dimly lit green, carried in all directions by the cold New England wind.
“There are so many incredible initiatives that are happening in our community right now,” reminded PSL organizer IV Staklo, “Because we know better than anyone how painful it is to feel alone. Our community is leading the fight against police terror. Our community is fighting for immigrant rights. Our community is leading the fight for labor rights. Because all of these issues are trans issues.”
2020 has been a turbulent year for everyone, but an increase in transphobic violence and anti-trans legislation have made it an especially difficult year for the trans community. Across the country many states are attacking the rights of transgender children and teens with the support of the federal government.
The struggles of transgender athletes also hit close to home for Connecticut residents this year, with Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos threatening to withhold federal funding from Connecticut public schools unless they agreed to ban trans athletes from participating in sporting events aligned with their gender.
The consequences of these events were not lost upon those gathered on the green, and the conversation quickly became one of unity and resilience. “Transphobia thrives in isolation,” began trans activist and member of the New Haven Pride Center Maia Leonardo, “So transphobia is counteracted by community… those of us with privilege in the LGBTQ+ community need to look out for those living at the intersections of marginalized identities. We need to fight for our economic rights, health rights, social rights, and civil rights.”
After a night of mourning, frustration, and calls to action, the ceremony was brought to a close on an optimistic note. Attendees took turns declaring what being trans means to them: “Trans is beautiful! Trans is strong! Trans is brave!” cried several members of the crowd before the co-emcee, Karleigh Webb, brought the vigil to a close with a poem.
Trans Day of Remembrance has been honored around the United States and much of the world for the past 20 years, since the first commemoration of trans lives following the murder of Rita Hester, a Black trans woman living in Boston, Massachusetts.
TDOR continues to be an important event in New Haven and has grown from a small series of vigils to a week-long series of events hosted by the New Haven Pride Center. Although so much progress has already been made, events like TDOR remind us that there is still much work to be done.