At a Western Washington University Transgender Day of Remembrance event on Monday night, Nov. 20, organizers read 62 names.
The names included Manuel Teran, also called “Tortuguita,” 26, a nonbinary environmental activist who was shot at least 57 times by Georgia state troopers in Atlanta, Georgia.
They read the name of Kayleigh Scott, a well-known transgender United Airlines flight attendant, 25, who died by suicide this year south of Denver. And Diamond Jackson-McDonald, a 27-year-old transgender woman shot and killed in her mother’s apartment in Philadelphia late last year.
The moving vigil that happened in the Underground Coffeehouse on Western’s campus Monday night is how many people across the country mark Transgender Day of Remembrance – by reading the names and telling the stories of people who have died due to anti-transgender violence.
Transgender Day of Remembrance, recognized annually on Nov. 20, started in 1999 to honor Rita Hester, a transgender woman who was killed in 1998.
“Today is heavy,” said JoeHahn, director of LGBTQ+ Western and an organizer of the event. “Today is hard. Today is honestly one of my least favorite parts of my job. It’s also one of the most important parts.”
At the event Monday, about 30 students and community members marked lives lost in the U.S. in the last year, including 36 people who died from violence, 19 who died by suicide and seven whose deaths are still uncategorized. Two of the names read were people who weren’t transgender: one was targeted because her killer thought she was transgender, and one was protecting his transgender friend.
JoeHahn said it’s important to recognize those who died by suicide, as well as those lost to violence.
“The suicide piece is really critical in how many trans people die from that, especially trans youth, because of the discrimination that we experience,” they said.
Hank Ohana told the audience about his transgender son, Mac, who died by suicide on Dec. 2, 2015. Ohana said this was the first Transgender Day of Remembrance ceremony he’d seen where trans people who died by suicide were recognized.
Ohana, who is a transgender man, remembers telling his kids before he transitioned that if he was born at another time, he might have been a trans man.
“It was Mac who told me, why would you say would have been? Why don’t you say are?” Ohana said. Ohana transitioned a few years after Mac passed away. “It’d be lovely if he was still here.”
After the reading of names, one student led attendees in song: “There is more love somewhere, there is more peace somewhere, there is more justice somewhere, there is more power somewhere, there is more love somewhere.”
JoeHahn said they want people to remember the dead. “[And] to honor them and to use Trans Day of Remembrance to advocate for more safety and security for trans people.”