The light from candles flickered in the dark night as the names of those lost floated on the breeze, faces reflecting the strength and remembrance the night centered around.
The final event of the 10th Annual Transgender Day of Remembrance in Fort Collins, the candle vigil began a decade ago in San Francisco as a reaction to the murder of Rita Hester, a member of the transgender community in Boston, Mass.
Not just a memorial to those who have died, the vigil also served as a way for those still living to come together and show their support for the transgender community, said Jen Lowe, president of the board of directors for the Lambda Center.
“We are here to recognize our living too, and show that we are still here and will keep advocating this cause,” Lowe added.
GLBT Student Services at CSU, Gaining Understanding through Involvement, Diversity, and Education within Housing and Dining Services and the Lambda Community Center, a center for the GLBT community in Fort Collins and Northern Colorado arranged the vigil as a collaborative effort.
Foula Dimopoulos, the director of the GLBTSS office and the keynote speaker for the evening, began with a speech not only commemorating the transgender people who have died, but those people who remain to support the cause.
“Let us cultivate a revolution of peace instead of fear.of revelation instead of assimilation,” Dimopoulos said.
Quoting Dorothy Day, Dimopoulos challenged the audience to “bring a revolution of the heart,” a call to action Dimopoulos identified as the greatest social hurtle today. She encouraged attendants to learn to accept all people for who they are and negate common assumptions.
After a moment of silence for reflection on personal stories and experiences with the transgender community, the small group of supporters then lit their candles while the names of those who were killed in the past year were read.
In the past year alone, there have been 29 documented anti-trans murders, a 65 percent increase over 2007, according to the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs, a national advocacy group for the GLBT community.
For people in Colorado, there is a recent history of transgender murders, first Angie Zapata, murdered in her apartment in Greeley on July 17, and then Aimee Wilcoxson, found murdered in her apartment in Aurora on Nov. 3.
Both were members of the transgender community, and just two of the victims of anti-transgender bias crimes in the past year.
Despite increasing numbers of anti-transgender murders, there is still an element of invisibility cloaking the transgender community, said Andy Stoll, interim executive director of the Lambda Center.
“We’ve seen a progression of understanding for the gay and lesbian community, but the transgender community seems to remain an invisible partner in the movement,” Stoll said.
Duff Norris, an open member of the transgender community, echoed this feeling of invisibility and said, “people don’t know we exist.”
“There is a huge lack of education about our community,” Norris explained. “Few people know how even functioning on a day to day basis is hard for a transgender person.”
It is the issue of gender and its categorization that Dimopoulos felt is the greatest cause of misunderstanding.
“Our society is very structured around gender boxes,” Dimopoulos said. “So when you can’t categorize a person’s gender, it makes people uncomfortable.”
Dimopoulos said she believes this discomfort creates fear of that community, causing people to either remain silent about the community or insist it doesn’t exist.
So it is this misconception that the Transgender Day of Remembrance hopes to combat.
Teri Engelke, a resident of Fort Collins, said she felt events like the vigil are what help that spread of education and awareness that could one day change the misconceptions.
“These events help people to continue to talk about the issues they face, to fight against those who are prejudiced against them, and to show that there is support for them,” Engelke said.
For Norris, this event showed not only the seriousness of hate crimes in America but also the hope still alive in the GLBT community and its allies.
“This event is about remembering those who have passed on,” Norris said. “But it also makes others realize how often crimes happen. It brings together the totality of the situation.”
In the end, Dimopoulos was able to identify the true meaning of the night.
“While much work has yet to be done, we must celebrate the fact that we are alive,” Dimopoulos stated near the end of her speech. “So what will you do? And how will you stand up for your community?”
Those interested can visit www.rememberingourdead.org for a list of the names of transgender people who were killed over the year.
Staff writer Alexandra Sieh can be reached at email@example.com.