Transgender Day of Remembrance 2021
Sarah Shelton – Features Editor
Every year, the SAGE Center holds a Transgender Day of Remembrance Vigil to support the LGBTQ+ community, specifically the transgender and non-binary community. This year, it was held Nov. 18, 2021.
On the SAGE Center’s OwlConnect, under the event, it stated, “Transgender Day of Remembrance, observed nationally on Nov. 20, is to commemorate all the transgender and nonbinary people lost to violence this year, particularly transgender women of color, who experience the highest rates of anti-transgender bigotry and violence.”
SAGE Center’s Graduate Intern, Aaron Morabito, said it takes some planning, but believes putting on this event brings the community together.
“So this day was started in 1999 by transgender advocate Gwendolyn Smith as a vigil to honor the memory of Rita Hester, a transgender woman who was killed in 1998. The vigil commemorated all the transgender people lost to violence since Rita Hester’s death, in beginning an important tradition that has become the annual Transgender Day of Remembrance,” Morabito said.
This vigil was held in Engleman hall. Right outside the room, there were support tables from the Multicultural Center, VPAS, the SAGE Center and the university’s counseling services.
First a reflection was held to explain the vigil, and then each resource table got a chance to talk to the students to let them know they have their support.
“Thank you all for being here this evening, my name is Jenna Retort, I do she/her pronouns, and I’m the coordinator of the center,” Jenna Retort, SAGE Center coordinator, opened the event.
Retort first wanted to recognize the institution was on traditional territory, then she talked about a student from her first INQ class, Asher Wells.
“We believe it is important to recognize and reflect on the prejudice that indigenous people have faced and continue to face as they continue to advocate for their communities,” Retort said. “Our ceremony this year is being dedicated to Asher Wells. Asher was a Media Studies major and a SAGE center ambassador. Asher brought many skills and talents to the SAGE Center team, and he was particularly passionate about transgender day of remembrance. He loved using his creativity, his passion and skills that he learned in his major to develop this program each year to bring awareness to the violence that the transgender community faces, and to celebrate and affirm trans identities.”
Communication disorders major Sam Gontarz, a sophomore, said he works for the SAGE Center and was honored to be a part of the vigil.
“This event is to commemorate all the non-binary and transgender figures that have passed away this year. We do a list we readout. There’s like names that we read out to commemorate everyone,” Gontarz said.
Morabito had everyone light a small LED candle before reading the names of the transgender lives taken too soon from the world due to violent anti-transgender acts.
“Most of the individuals that you’re remembering this evening are trans women of color. Trans women of color face disproportionate rates of violence. Think about the systems of oppression that exist that marginalize these individuals, and that perpetuate violence, they continue to disenfranchise them. And think about the ways you are privileged and the ways in which you have power and identify ways that you can use both to educate and advocate for those in marginalized communities,” Retort said before each member of the SAGE Center took a turn reading the names of lives lost this year in America due to violent acts against the transgender community.
Morabito pointed out how many of these deaths go unreported. One big reason this could happen is transphobia; their gender identity is ignored.
Some of these names included: Tyianna Alexander, the first known violent transgender death of 2021, Dominique Lucious, Remy Fennell and so many more.
After the reading, the center invited Asher Well’s family and friends up to the front of the room to get a chance to commemorate and share about him.
“I had the great honor and privilege of being Asher’s mother,” Shannon, Asher’s mother, publicly spoke at the event.
Asher’s friends and family talked about his warm hugs, his contagious laugh and how passionate he was about many issues, specifically going on in the LGBTQIA+ community.
“Thank you for the opportunity to honor him once again here,” Shannon said.
Many students sat with tears in their eyes and L.E.D. candles in their hands. Morabito pointed out how it is important to honor these lives and to keep the memory of Asher Wells and all his hard work alive at the university.
“Even if we don’t know them personally, these lives often get lost or forgotten about and we really want to make sure we honor them and highlight them,” Morabito said. “Especially this year, our ceremony was dedicated to Asher, who was a SAGE Center ambassador and student here. We wanted to make sure he got the honor and recognition he deserves.”