Members from the Associated Students Queer Resource Center proudly display signs and sport colors advocating the nationally-observed Transgender Awareness Week from the ledge of the Red Square fountain on Tuesday, Nov. 15. // Photo by Brooke Wilson
Students, faculty and local volunteers encircled the fountain in Red Square for an organized demonstration on Tuesday, Nov. 15. in observance of Trans Week of Remembrance on campus, an event organized by the Queer Resource Center the week before Transgender Day of Remembrance.
Trans Week of Remembrance, nationally known as Transgender Awareness Week, is observed throughout the country during Nov. 12-19, 2018. According to the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation, the central focus of the week aims to bolster advocacy and education on pertinent issues like prejudice, discrimination and violence against transgender folks.
The week concludes on Tuesday, Nov. 20 with the annual recognition of Transgender Day of Remembrance across the U.S., which honors the memory of those who have been murdered, along with misreported or neglected crimes against the community, according to the GLAAD reference guide.
What began as a small vigil grew into a nationally-celebrated, annual memorial.
Started by transgender advocate Gwendolyn Ann Smith, the vigil honored the memory of Rita Hester, a transgender woman killed in 1998, and commemorated all the trans lives lost to violence that year, according to the Transgender Day of Remembrance organization website.
While the occasion has been marked with stories about prevalent crime against transgender people, the resilience expressed in the face of violence has equally struck a chord within the community near and abroad.
In years past, the Associated Students Queer Resource Center has typically conducted an evening vigil on campus that a fairly small number of people attended, said Nichole Vargas, Community Engagement Coordinator.
After receiving input from peers and fellow club organizers, Vargas said the center decided to host a demonstration in a common gathering space instead while classes are in session. In a positive change of pace, Vargas said the decision has only strengthened LGBTQ+ presence within the Western community and heightened social awareness.
Other events continued throughout the week, including one titled “Remembering the Dead, Celebrate the Living,” on Friday, Nov. 16 that served as a reminder to attendees that not every story has to end, said fourth-year Eli Kiesel, who volunteered at the demonstration. At the beginning of the evening, the AS Student Advocacy and Identity Resource Center focused on honoring trans folks who have passed, while the latter part entailed a social gathering that aimed to build community and promote healing, as stated on the Western Involvement Network webpage.
Given the current political climate, divisive rhetoric and recent legislative proposals from the U.S. government have incited grave concern among trans people and gender non-conforming individuals.
In late October, the Department of Health and Human Services drafted a memo that defined sex as a trait conclusively determined by genitalia at birth and would effectively erase the identities of trans folks from the narrative. In response, the national trans community refuses to be silenced and has rallied together in unprecedented fashion via social media to raise a ruckus.
For students and staff members who are concerned about what these policy changes could mean for the daily lives of trans folk, LGBTQ+ Director L.K. Langley shared their thoughts with a message on the university website on Oct. 22, 2018, following the breaking news.
“Legal recognition and documentation do not dictate our humanity… no memo can take away what we know is true about ourselves, our families, and our communities,” Langley said. “Trans people carry rich legacies of resilience. Our lives will not be erased. Trans people are beautifully, powerfully here.”