RWU community holds vigil for Transgender Day of Remembrance

Nicholas Polinsky, Herald Contributor

After the death of Rita Hester, a transgender woman, advocate of transgender issues Gwendolyn Ann Smith founded Transgender Day of Remembrance. Since its creation in 1999, this day, which is observed annually on Nov. 20, seeks to combat injustices and raise awareness of the struggles of transgender individuals.

Led by S.A.F.E. (Sexuality Advocacy for Everyone), Roger Williams University held a vigil for Transgender Day of Remembrance outside of the Recreation Center on Monday, Nov. 20.

Everyone in attendance was given a candle, which represented all of those who have lost their lives or been discriminated against based on their gender identity, to hold throughout the vigil.

The ceremony began with a speech about the founding of Transgender Day of Remembrance. The words once stated by Smith convey what the ceremony is all about: “Transgender Day of Remembrance seeks to highlight the losses we face due to anti-transgender bigotry and violence. I am no stranger to the need to fight for our rights, and the right to simply exist is first and foremost. With so many seeking to erase transgender people — sometimes in the most brutal ways possible — it is vitally important that those we lose are remembered, and that we continue to fight for justice.”

After the introduction, Coordinator for LGBTQ+ Programs Gabby Porcaro thanked everyone for their attendance and began to talk about just a few of the challenges that transgender individuals face.

Porcaro explained that suicide rates for transgender individuals are much higher than those of cisgender individuals. Unemployment rates and percentages of homelessness are also much higher for transgender individuals. Porcaro also said that many transgender people will often experience a strong negative reaction from at least one family member.

When Porcaro finished, two S.A.F.E. members read the names of 25 transgender individuals who were killed in 2017. Each name came with a short story about how they died and what type of person they were in life.  All of them were described as wonderful people.

After all 25 people were recognized, a moment of silence was held for both those who have passed away and those that still live today suffering from unjust treatment by society.

At the end of the moment of silence, everyone at the ceremony recognized the transgender pride flag, which is now being flown at the flagpole in front of the Recreation Center.  The blue, pink, and white flag waved in the wind at half-mast. To close out the ceremony, each person blew out the candle they were holding to represent transgender individuals who lost their lives.

With such a powerful ceremony, it is the hope that the injustices against transgender individuals shall be brought to light, and along with it, perhaps some social change.

“I’d never been [to the vigil] before, and it was really emotional,” said sophomore Hannah Brentwood. “I think it’s really important to hold it because these are people whose lives were horribly and unfairly taken, and we should recognize that.”