A large chain made of multi-colored pieces of construction paper hung between the trees and stairs of the three-story Atrium building in downtown Eugene on Nov. 20. Each link listed the name, age and hometown of a murdered transgender person, followed by their cause of death.
The chain was started 11 years ago at Eugene’s first Trans Day of Remembrance vigil. Every year since, names of murder victims have been added to the chain. According to Cass Averill, Founder of Trans*Ponder, a completely transgender founded-and-led non-profit in Eugene, volunteers had to start adding more than one name to each link for fear of it becoming too long. More than 300 names were added this year.
Led by local organizers from United FRONT’s Trans Justice Campaign, Trans*Ponder and the University of Oregon’s LGBT Education and Support Services, Tuesday’s vigil featured food, an alter memorializing trans victims of violence and a safe place for people to grieve and come together.
“It’s really important to have a space for community members to come together and mourn,” Averill said. “And not only mourn, but also to honor the resilience of those left behind.”
UO student Elliot Parker attended the vigil with his fiancé. It was his first year attending the vigil since his recent transition. Parker feels lucky to be part of a community that is able to celebrate transgender rights but understands that in most parts of the world, transgender people and the ones who love them are still suffering.
“Being here brings up such a wide range of emotions,” Parker said. “One minute you're talking and making light conversation about being trans, but then you kind of look around, and you see the candles, and you see the chain, and you kind of have a moment where you realize this is happening. People are dying.”
Trans Day of Remembrance has been observed annually around the globe since its founding in 1999. It's the somber exclamation point that ends the week-long celebration that is Transgender Awareness Week, which takes place during the second week of November.
Oblio Stroyman, who co-founded Trans*Ponder with Averill seven years ago, cites the disproportionate violence against trans people as the driving force for the annual vigil.
“People are being slaughtered every day without any consequence,” Stroyman said. “The community is already constantly grieving, and having people come together acknowledges what's happening and lets everyone know that we’re not going to just sweep it under the rug.”
The evening began with a small speech commemorating the victims of gendered violence. The atrium was filled with silence as attendees— knowing that it was a drop in the bucket compared to this past decade, or even century — reflected on the deaths from this past year.
Haley Wilson, the event coordinator for UO’s LGBT Education and Support Services, said that the space provided by this vigil is instrumental in shedding light on the type of violence trans people face on a daily basis.
“I have so many loved ones in my life that are impacted by violence towards them for being trans or non-binary,” Wilson said. “Murder and suicide are both such common experiences for trans people everywhere. It needs a place to be talked about and shared.”
The sense of community showcased at events like the Trans Day of Remembrance vigil aims to bring trans issues out of the shadows and show communities around the world that their voices can’t be silenced.
For Cameron Sigler, the trans community in Eugene has welcomed him with open arms, but before he transitioned, he didn’t know such a community existed. Sigler said he thinks the vigil and similar events are necessary to spread the word on trans issues.
“My community is being murdered,” Sigler said. “It’s important for us to show up and show people who aren't in the trans community that we’re here.”
What’s most important to Sigler is using his privilege and voice to elevate the voices of those in the trans community who aren’t always able to speak for themselves.
“For the most part, my time as a trans person has been good,” Sigler said. “So it’s important for me to show up and help others whose time hasn’t been so good. For people whose family doesn't accept them and for the people who have lost their lives because of the transition, I’m here for them.”
UO offers support for people transitioning: contact the LGBTESS at 541-346-6105.
UO also offers multiple scholarships to people in the LGBT community, which can be found at dos.uoregon.edu/lgbt-scholarships.