‘In an ideal world, we wouldn’t have to do any sort of vigil for any minority group’
The vigil for Trans day of remembrance was held in square 3 at the University of Essex, on the 17th of November.
As a notable crowd gathered to show support for the trans community, the atmosphere became appropriately sombre, and tea lights were handed out for the vigil.
A list of names and ages was then read out by Sam, the Trans Officer on our campus, 391 names and ages of people who had been the victims of transphobic hate crimes that ended their lives, sometimes before they could even live them.
On that long and painful list, the youngest age read out was 10 years old, and a substantial amount was 15-19.
The crowd stood in horrified silence, some holding back tears, and when the list had finished a minutes silence was held as mourners placed their tea lights onto the bank in the centre of Square 3, some lit candles which were provided by the organisers.
The importance of the event was further highlighted by Riley, LGBTQ officer, with them calling it the ‘most important event that the SU holds each year, with the visibility created by the event for the community and its issues, as well as allowing trans people to know that there are people on this campus who will actively support them, makes it that much more impactful.
Afterward, various speakers from different backgrounds explained their experiences as trans people or working for trans rights, something that highlighted so many issues that cisgender people take for granted.
The group then moved to the atrium for a wake.
Which became a space to discuss and process what had just been explained, and an atmosphere of solemn remembrance became one of understanding and talking, as people from all backgrounds and identities discussed their experiences in a safe and accommodating environment.
However, this vigil is not just an event for mourning, but for education.
Mariam, a genderfluid transmasculine person, said:
‘This event was very powerful because it highlighted the real experiences that trans people have to navigate.’
The event does this through its speakers and the experiences that all of them talked about, as well as highlighting the youth of the victims and how widespread violence against trans people is.
Orion a non-binary trans person, said that
‘I do think this specific event should happen once a year, it makes it more meaningful, but there should be more events that are about trans people.’
The trans experience on campus is complicated.
When talking about the university’s relationship with the community, Riley said that the university was ‘not always’ accommodating to trans people but highlighted that ‘they’re getting better and there is definitely more to be done, but it is definitely better, and it is thanks to people like Sam and the trans officers.’
The trans officer on campus is elected every year for that academic year unless they decide to run for re-election, and if you are trans on campus it’s highly recommended to come to them with any issues related to gender.
Mariam spoke about a ‘communities common room’ which is intended as a safe space for all liberation groups.
This is something that the SCO’s fought for alongside the SU to set up.
Whilst this space was created to be very inclusive, access to the space requires borrowing a key card from the SU Engagement Team creating a barrier to drop in whenever.
“we shouldn’t have to loan a card to access a safe space”.
They also talked about how:
“there is a performance in the way that transition is handled. I feel like the Uni could do much more tangible things and provide more tangible resources to trans people with intersectional identities.”
Intersectionality is a framework that explains how multiple forms of oppression based on race, gender, citizenship, etc. intersect to maintain social hierarchies.
Talking about the experience of individual trans students, Orion said
‘I think it really does depend on what we’re talking about, because the University is great about changing your name or your title on your student card, on your email, things like that.’
They also talked about how ‘lecturers often don’t know about pronouns and how to work around them, and there’s not a lot of information there to help trans people.’
It was very insightful speaking to members of our campus trans community and some of the challenges they face both on campus and in wider society.
Whilst recognition was given to steps taken to support the community, it’s clear that society still has a way to go which is why events such as the trans vigil are so important to raise awareness and understanding.
If you happened to miss the vigil.
There will be further events to do with educating yourself about LGBTQ+ issues, with Riley saying that ‘we will definitely be doing more, particularly in LGBTQ+ history month, which is in February, which I’ll be organising primarily.’
‘The vigil will be held every year hopefully until the day we don’t have to read any more names out’, which would be in the week of November 20th if not on that day, unless the violence stops.
The LGBTQ+ network has created the Gender Affirmation Fund, which is now open for donations and ‘offers trans students funding for gender-affirming items.’
This fund was set up by the Trans and Non-Binary Working Group in response to the Reindorf Review ‘to ensure that changes were being made at the University to make trans students feel safe, seen and represented.’
For more information and news about LGBTQ+ events, visit @uoelgbtqnetwork.
Why does this event happen?
A vigil is an event held every year and it’s recognised as being on the 20th of November as that was the day the first one was held in 1999 in San Francisco, in order to remember Rita Hester, who was a transgender woman murdered the previous year and had inspired a candlelight vigil to remember her life in reaction to disrespectful coverage by the local media in America of her life and tragic death.
Transgender day of remembrance has been held on November 20th for 23 years now, and the list of names read out at every vigil is long and even inaccurate, as transphobia has led to people’s identities not even being acknowledged, with the list of names being potentially much longer than the one read out.
Riley said that ‘in the sense of should we have these events’ the vigil shouldn’t have to be held as ‘in an ideal world we wouldn’t have to do any sort of vigil for any minority group’.
However, it’s not that widespread outside of the UK.
Orion said that
“it is an event that happens quite a lot around the UK, but I have not seen anything from France which is where I’m from and any other country really, I think it’s mostly a thing in English-speaking countries.”
Some governments have recognised the event, such as the Canadian province of Ontario, where Transgender Day of Remembrance has been recognised by a minute of silence on November 20th by the Legislative Assembly since 2017, however, the United States has yet to pass the Equality Act which would amend the 1964 Civil Rights Act to prohibit discrimination on the basis of sex, sexual orientation and gender identity in various areas of public life.