vigil for TDOR
Image credit: Cameron Samuel Keys

Vigil held in Oxford for Transgender Day of Remembrance

TW: Transphobia, Violence

A candlelit vigil was held at the Radcliffe Camera last night to remember the transgender people whose lives have been lost to acts of anti-transgender violence.

Transgender Day of Remembrance is an annual observance across the world that started in 1999. Activist Gwendolyn Ann Smith began the tradition as a vigil for transgender woman Rita Hester who had been killed in 1998.

Earlier in the day the SU LGBTQ+ campaign posted a quote from Smith on the founding of the day, expressing that it “seeks to highlight the losses we face due to anti-transgender bigotry and violence”. She stated that “it is vitally important that those we lose are remembered, and that we continue to fight for justice”.

The campaign echoed that “this is a time to mourn and remember” as well as “a time to stand up and stand strong as a community”.

A memorial has been set up on the fence around the Radcliffe Camera. One piece features a quote from transgender activist Marsha P Johnson “no pride for some of us without liberation for all of us” and features both the Palestinian and trans pride flag.

The memorial joins ribbons tied to the fence to symbolise losses from the Israel Gaza conflict amongst calls for a ceasefire.

The co-chair of the SU LGBTQ+ campaign, Joel Aston, began the vigil by speaking about the heaviness that grief can have, and that in coming together, everyone participated in “sharing the heaviness together” and “communal grieving”. They also highlighted the welfare resources available, with a welfare room set up in Brasenose College. 

The vigil has been held for four years in Oxford, with one speaker highlighting the pain of there being “several hundred more names” each year.

One of the speakers spoke of the need to “save all trans people, all queer people and all oppressed people everywhere”. They said they wanted to remember the lives of those “murdered directly or indirectly by the government”.

At the Conservative Party Conference earlier this year, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak asserted that “a man is a man, and a woman is a woman”, as well as commenting that British people shouldn’t be “bullied” into believing that “people can be any sex they want to be”.

The SU LGBTQ+ campaign released a statement on these comments, calling them “yet another example of the constant erasure and removal of Trans rights to utilise an already marginalised community as a scapegoat for the real issues facing this country”.

Another speaker commented that “being trans shouldn’t come with an expiration date”. Placards saying “mourn the dead, fight like hell for the living” and “trans lecturers stand with trans students” were held up during the event.

One speaker, who worked in gender affirming healthcare in the US said that “ageing is a privilege and it’s something that [the transgender community] has to fight for”. They also sang a song for those that died before receiving treatment, with the lyrics “I’ll watch your story grow old”.

The conflict in Gaza was also mentioned, as one speaker highlighted the colonial context of oppression, and asked for discourse on both the trans and Palestinian lives lost.

Chrissie Chevasutt, who is an outreach worker at a local church, also spoke during the event. They referenced that much of transphobic hate derives from the church, and that some ministers in Oxford should “hang their heads in shame” for how they’ve treated the LGBTQ+ community.

The death of Brianna Ghey, a transgender teenager who was killed in February this year, was raised as well as mentioning statistics of recorded murders of trans people “that we know of”. Chevassut emphasised the importance of spreading love as the way to overcome transphobia, as “if we hate on hate, we’re just their reflection in the mirror.”

Aston concluded the vigil by speaking about trans grief, which they said always came with the “taste of anger” from being “exhausted” by being angry at institutions and systems. They expressed their frustration at receiving condolences from institutions whilst failing to see action happen to offer protections.

A minute’s silence was then held in remembrance of those lost. Reporting from the Trans Murder Monitoring Project found that 321 trans people were murdered globally in the past year.

For crisis support, Samaritans are found at 116 123, or, for Galop’s helpline supporting LGBTQ+ individuals facing abuse of any sort, call 0800 999 5428.