Jever Mariwala

On Monday, over 50 members of the Yale community gathered, spoke and sang around the Women’s Table to commemorate the Transgender Day of Remembrance in honor of those who lost their lives as a result of transphobia.

Since the Transgender Day of Remembrance falls on Nov. 20 during Thanksgiving break, students from Trans@Yale, an organization under the Office of LGBTQ Resources, hosted the annual vigil before students leave campus. The organizers also used their platform at the candlelit vigil to remind students and faculty of their responsibility to speak out in defense of the trans community. The vigil followed an Oct. 24 statement by the University reaffirming that it would protect transgender rights in the wake of a leaked memo from the Department of Health and Human Services that defined gender as an immutable biological trait under Title IX law.

“Today is a day to remember those whom we’ve lost to transphobic violence, but it is also a day to unite and remember why we need to fight back against it,” said vigil organizer Jay Zhang ’21. “We cannot forget how our government’s hateful actions especially target the most vulnerable people among us. When people in power threaten our existence and embolden those who wish us harm, it is imperative that we continue to fight together against the transphobia, transmisogyny and racism that threaten so many among us.”

Attendees each read out a name of someone who lost their lives due to transphobic violence. Zhang said that while listening to those names, the community should note that violence against trans people “cannot be separated from issues of misogyny and race.” Most names on the list belonged to trans women of color.

Syd Bakal ’22, who spoke at the vigil, reminded attendees that this day of mourning “should not be the only day” when trans people’s lives — and especially trans women of color — are valued. Bakal added that a trans person’s life “should not matter only when they become an obituary.”

Several speakers noted recent political threats to transgender rights. Sasha Carney ‘22, a member of Trans@Yale, cited several new policies under the Trump administration.

“I think now more than ever when transgender rights are being tangibly threatened by the Trump administration, when people’s access to healthcare, hormone therapy, name changes and legal gender recognition face a threat of all being swept away, it is more important than ever to force people to realize that this is something that impacts the communities around them,” Carney said.

But Carney expressed their disappointment that most students who attended the vigil were trans people, and cisgender attendees were few and far between. Carney added that it is “easier to show up for issues that impact you directly” but Trans@Yale intended to hold the event in a public space — which has historically been the site of several other well-attended protests and vigils — as a call for allies of all genders to join.

Nash Keyes ’21, who spoke at the event, said that students at Yale must “harness their power and privilege” to help marginalized members of the transgender community, such as trans women of color. They added that those who are wealthy should donate to organizations fighting for trans rights.

“We cannot afford to let hatred, to let transphobia, to let racism and sexism and homophobia, remain on this campus, whether hidden or openly expressed — not when so many of us at Yale, including those who perpetuate bigotry, will go on to run the banks, to run the courts, to run the government, to run the world,” Keyes said.

Members of the Yale administration, including Associate University Chaplain Jenny Peek, showed their support for the trans community by attending the vigil.

Associate Director of the Office of LGBTQ Resources, Andrew Dowe, said that the vigil serves to remind the Yale community of the stakes of trans rights and trans visibility. Dowe added that it is particularly important to work towards inclusion and affirmation of Yale’s marginalized communities.

The Transgender Day of Remembrance was created by transgender advocate Gwendolyn Ann Smith as a vigil to honor the memory of Rita Hester, a transgender woman killed in 1998.

Jever Mariwala | jever.mariwala@yale.edu