ABOVE: Blue, white and pink flowers and candles placed on UCF’s famous Pegasus seal in the Student Union for Transgender Day of Remembrance. (Photo by Lora Korpar)
The University of Central Florida (UCF) and Valencia College both observed Transgender Day of Remembrance (TDOR) on Nov. 20 with events to honor victims of anti-transgender violence.
Valencia’s East Campus held an event with speakers, booths representing local LGBTQ organizations, performances and a candlelight vigil in which the names of the 311 transgender people killed around the world since last year’s TDOR were read aloud.
The event was hosted by Gender Identity in Florida Today (GIFT), which offers a safe networking environment for the local transgender community and their allies, and organized by mental health counselor and out transgender woman Jennifer Marvin.
“One [name] is too many, but 300 names is ridiculous,” Marvin said. “Today’s a day to grieve and mourn and honor these people, but it’s also a day to educate.”
The first Transgender Day of Remembrance was held in 1999 in honor of transgender woman Rita Hester, an active member of the community who was murdered in her apartment in 1998 and whose killer has still not been caught over 20 years later.
Transgender rights advocate and writer Gwendolyn Ann Smith coordinated a vigil for Hester and since then, there have been vigils every year in which the names of the transgender people who have been killed since the past year’s TDOR are read.
Smith also launched the TDOR website in which organizations from across the world can document anti-transgender violence that happens throughout the year.
Marvin has been involved with Valencia’s TDOR events since the first one nine years ago. She said that since then, public perception of transgender people has gotten better, but there is still a long way to go.
“People get scared of something they don’t understand,” Marvin said. “People lash out when they’re afraid. But I do believe that in some areas, in some situations, there’s a lot of hope.”
Keri Griffin has been a mental health therapist at Orlando Veterans Affairs for 15 years and has become a strong ally as the LGBTQ coordinator and special emphasis program manager for VA. This was her sixth year attending Valencia’s TDOR event.
“I think people are being more open and honest with themselves and with others, so I can appreciate that,” Griffin said. “However, people are ignorant. They’re afraid of what they don’t know and instead of getting educated, they react, versus being proactive and learning. I always say every time I’m doing training at the VA, you have to understand all the psychosocial stressors that come along with somebody’s transition journey. And nobody would ever just willy-nilly choose to do this with all the stressors that come along with it.”
QLatinx Gender Equity Organizer Josa Alvarez understands this stress firsthand. She said that this event is important to honor all the lives lost as well as the transgender people of color who pushed the trans movement forward.
“[This day] personally means to me that we’re able to acknowledge that the experience of being trans is largely one that is filled with beauty and even when there comes a lot of different tragedies, I would like trans people to know that being unapologetically yourself is one of the best experiences there is,” Alvarez said. “And we as a community should be able to ensure that we have more events that uplift each other and call attention to all our different unique experiences.”
Photos by Lora Korpar.
UCF’s LGBTQ+ Services, the Multicultural Student Center and Pride Student Association partnered to host their own TDOR event on the UCF main campus.
Blue, white and pink flowers and candles were placed on UCF’s famous Pegasus seal in the Student Union and several speakers such as Nikole Parker from the onePULSE Foundation gave brief speeches. There was also an opportunity for students to add their handprints to a poster that will hang in UCF’s Pride Commons.
Then the names of the 22 transgender people murdered in the U.S. this year were read aloud and a rose was placed in a vase for each name called.
Graduate Assistant for LGBTQ+ Services Jay Stein said that though in past years they did a candlelight vigil outside, this year they wanted to give the event more of a sense of community by introducing students to the resources available to them.
“I try to be a realist as much in my life as I can be, but with this, I can’t explain the sense of community I’m seeing being built,” Stein said. “UCF provides such a wonderful space for such a diverse campus. As much hate as we see going on throughout the country, we also see people that are radically fighting for change — especially the queer people of color, the trans people of color who are standing up and uniting together. We 100 percent owe it to them.”
At both events, organizers and attendees alike agreed that education and representation are the key to greater acceptance of the transgender community and with it, hopefully the decrease of anti-transgender violence.
“We’re your doctors, we’re your cashiers at the grocery store, we’re your sports heroes, we’re your lawyers, we’re everybody,” Marvin said. “We live among you and we want to tell you we’re among you and we want to feel that we can do that and get some sort of acceptance.”