Our Virtual Vigil for 2020

Below are the remarks, and video presentation from TransFamily of NWPA’s Transgender Day of Remembrance Virtual Vigil held on November 20th, 2020.

Opening remarks by Dana Rasmussen:

Good Evening Everyone,

Thank you for attending this year’s Transgender Day of Remembrance vigil.

We will be recording this call. We request that you keep microphones muted and video disabled. If you start your video it will be stopped. Violation of this request will result in removal from the call.

Over the last 8 years TransFamily of Northwest Pennsylvania has been actively supporting the transgender and gender non-conforming community in Erie and the surrounding area. Most recently we have been able to provide micro-grants to assist with legal name changes. We hold monthly peer support group meetings for transgender or gender non-conforming folk and their allies. We have participated in and helped plan yearly events such as Pride, the summer picnic, transgender day of visibility and this event.

The original day of remembrance was started in 1999 because San Francisco resident, Gwendolyn Smith showed her love, grief, and anger at the tragic loss of a murdered a Boston transgender woman, Rita Hester. She organized a candlelight vigil in San Francisco and Boston on the 1st anniversary of Rita’s death. This murder is still unsolved. Tonight, 21 years after that vigil, we continue the tradition of remembering those members of our family lost due to violence.  

Last month the TransFamily board of directors discussed this event and if we should have an in-person vigil or a virtual one. Our biggest concerns hinged around fears. Fear for the safety of our community. Fear of possible civil unrest due to the outcome of the soon to be held election. Fear of the effects caused by restrictions the community may be under due to the pandemic. It is because of these fears and others we have chosen to hold this year’s event virtually.

Each of us have fears. Some are widely varied, and some are specific like the ones just mentioned. As I read the following fears, ask yourself if you fear these things also?

  • Will the world hate me for living as I truly am?
  • Will I be bullied because I look or dress differently?
  • Will my own brother shoot and kill me in a rampage?
  • Will the person I just went on a date with shoot and kill me?
  • Will my date return and continue shooting me even after I am already dead?
  • Will my friend and I be found burned to death in a car?
  • Will I be stabbed repeatedly and then set on fire to obscure my identity?
  • Will I be run over by a car while protesting for the rights of our fellow humans?
  • Will I have my legs severed and my body dumped in a river?
  • Will my partially clothed body be found, wrapped in a tarp, lying on the sidewalk? 
  • Will my name be on next year’s Transgender Day of Remembrance list?

The people we are gathered to remember tonight experienced these fears as their lives were brutally taken.

We again request that you keep video disabled and microphones muted. If you are reading a tribute, please remember to unmute yourself for only the time you are reading.

Closing remarks by Dana Rasmussen:

Just in case you were not counting during the presentation.
The United States’ share of the estimated 350 reported deaths worldwide of transgender and gender non-conforming people due to violent acts.
This number does not include those who have been driven to suicide by the way society views and treats transgender and gender non-conforming people.
This number may be even higher because the police, the press and even our own families sometimes will not respect our identities, even after we are dead. Many times, this happens because the path to obtaining an updated ID such as a driver’s license contains roadblocks. Other times it is because society and family refuse to acknowledge our identities or existence.

When preparing this year’s presentation, I wanted to show you more than just a name, a date, and a cause of death. I wanted to show you glimpses into the lives of these people. They were family, mine, and yours. The search for this information was a daunting task. I spent hours poring over report after report which detailed the deaths, sometimes in gruesome detail. I searched news agencies, police reports, obituaries, Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. In a few cases the friends and family were very loving and kind about their lost loved ones. I was so happy when I found family members who were accepting. This meant I would more than likely be able to choose from several phrases to describe the people we mourn tonight. Some were much harder to find information than others. In one case I prepared the statement based on my impression from photos posted on social media with no descriptions, captions, or context.

I ask you to take a few things away from this evening: 

  • That person you see when walking down the street or while at the store is just like you. They are trying to make the absolute best with what they have, help them by being kind.
  • Our human family comes in all colors, genders, orientations, sizes, and sexes. None are superior to another, help those who are having the most difficulties first.
  • Get involved with organizations that help, not hurt.
  • Urge your elected officials to support laws that ensure equality for all.
  • Most importantly love and support each other.

In closing TransFamily understands that tonight’s presentation has been difficult for many in attendance. Please take care of yourselves. Talk to a friend or loved one. If you do not feel you can talk to the people you know, please reach out to one of the resources listed on screen.

This call will be kept open for a while for those who need support now.

Thank you.