A respectful and poignant vigil was held in honour of Transgender Day of Remembrance on 17th November. The attendees came bearing candles and flowers, heads bowed in quiet reflection.
The event is held to honour the memory of all transgender and non-binary people who died as a result of transphobic violence. The first vigil was held by transgender activist Gwendolyn Ann Smith in 1999 in honour of Rita Hester, a trans woman who was killed in her own home. It acted as a tribute to her life, and a defiance of acts of transphobia around the world that would continue to be an annual day of remembrance.
The university’s vigil was held at the Alan Turing statue, which was adorned with the transgender and the progress pride flags. There were representatives from staff, students and the students’ union present at the event. Each of the talks from various members of these groups called for fair and equal treatment of transgender and non-binary people around the world, acknowledging five individuals who died this year alone. A particular focus was placed on transgender women of colour (such as Rita Hester), who face increasing amounts of discrimination and violence.
The Students’ Union stated the following about their role in making campus a safe space for members of the LGBTQ+ community:
“We wear pronoun badges to show solidarity and help start needed conversations. Our toilets are gender neutral; and we work closely with the LGBTQI+ Equality Group to ensure that we support all students at Surrey. Through comms, the Unions' Liberation Network and collaborating with the University elsewhere: we will continue to raise students' voices and support our community at Surrey.”
However, there is a still a long way to go in making all spaces feel inclusive to all transgender and non-binary people.
'There is still a long way to go...'
375 transgender people that we know of were killed in 2021, the highest figure of anti-transgender violence since records began. Transgender women survivors of hate violence are more likely to experience police violence, physical violence, discrimination, harassment, sexual violence, threats, and intimidation compared to those who were not transgender women.
A poem by Chrysanthemum Tran entitled ‘Maybe All Transgender People Are Really Vampires’ was also read at the vigil. They use metaphors involving Transylvanian castles and the undead to highlight the prejudices that trans people face.
Following on from the title, they continue:
“I of course don’t mean the ones that sparkle in daylight, nor the ones who crave a fair maiden’s neck. After all, most trans people can’t even walk home without the uncertainty of how their own blood might puddle across the pavement.”
The vigil reaffirmed that trans and non-binary people are tired of their existence being questioned and threatened on a regular basis. They are tired of being scared to come out, to not be sure whether they will be accepted or rejected by others.
'The vigil reaffirmed that trans and non-binary people are tired of their existence being questioned and threatened...'
LGBTQ+ Society also commemorated the Transgender Day of Remembrance by giving a presentation to raise awareness of transgender and non-binary issues earlier in the week.
I have attended weekly meetings with the society for a long time now, and the space they have created feels truly safe. I can only hope that this feeling will one day extend beyond the borders of these meetings.
The same atmosphere was felt at the vigil. We stood in defiance of a system that has neglected to protect trans and non-binary people for so long.