Seventy-five people gathered at the Fayetteville Town Center on Sunday night for a vigil to commemorate transgender Americans who have lost their lives to violence this year.
The Transgender Equality Network’s seventh annual Transgender Day of Remembrance vigil brought together transgender people, allies and others from Northwest Arkansas for a night of mourning, education and support.
The event featured a silent candlelit procession around the Fayetteville Downtown Square followed by speeches, a remembrance of those murdered in other countries and a reading of the names, ages, occupations and causes of death of the known transgender Americans who were killed so far in 2019. At least 22 transgender and gender-non-comfoming Americans, 20 of whom were black transgender women, have been killed in 2019, according to the Human Rights Campaign. At least 331 transgender and gender-nonconforming people were killed worldwide between Oct. 1, 2018, and Sept. 30, 2019, according to the Trans Murder Monitoring Project.
Activist Alice Van Hammer told the story of her former girlfriend, a transgender woman who went by the name Tabitha Dalaroux although she never changed her legal name. Unknown assailants murdered Dalaroux by dragging her behind a car in 2009, after which her family, who disowned her when she came out, held a funeral for her under her former male name, Van Hammer said.
“What they did to her, it put something ugly in me –– something I’ve only recently started to get over,” Van Hammer said. “She didn’t die, she didn’t pass away, she didn’t lose her life. It was taken from her. She was taken from me, she was taken from this world.”
Pam Smith, aunt of transgender indigenous woman Aubrey Dameron, missing from Grove, Oklahoma, since March, said she has spent the last several months struggling to accept the fact that her niece may have been murdered.
“She fought her entire life to be who she is, and all she wanted was to be loved and accepted,” Smith said through tears. “Cherish your loved ones, regardless of who they choose to love, what they choose to wear, or where they choose to live, because they only have one life.”
Graham, co-leader of Moms Demand Action of Fayetteville, spoke about the connection between gun violence and transgender hate crimes. At least 16 of the transgender Americans killed in 2019 were shot, according to the HRC. Gunshot wounds are the most common cause of death for transgender murder victims nationwide, according to the TMM.
“Easy access to firearms gives a single hate-filled individual the means to shatter numerous lives and entire communities, just like the June 2016 shooting at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando,” Graham said.
TEN board members Robert Stafford and Jared Wolf spoke about Daphne Dorman of San Francisco and Asher Holden Beers of Little Rock, transgender friends they have lost to suicide in the past year. Both Dorman and Beers posted notes on Facebook shortly before their deaths.
NWA Equality, Moms Demand Action AR and NWA PFLAG co-sponsored Sunday’s event.Ten members of the Arkansas chapter of Free Mom Hugs also attended the vigil to provide comfort to attendees. Tara Van Nostrand, a member of the nationwide organization of allies who attend LGBTQ events to give hugs to whoever needs them, said she felt privileged to be able to help people in her own way.
“We give out hugs to anyone who may need them, because sometimes their families have kicked them out of the house and they hug us and say, ‘You know, I haven’t hugged my mom in six years,’” Van Nostrand said. “They appreciate what we’re doing here.”
Evelyn Rios-Stafford, incoming vice-chair of the board of the Transgender Law Center, said Transgender Day of Remembrance is not just about mourning, but also the resiliency of the transgender community.
“Trans and gender-non-conforming people hold the brilliance, resilience and power to transform the world,” Rios-Stafford said. “Liberation for everyone is both necessary and possible. We will fight. We fight so that there are fewer funerals and more celebrations.”