By Tat Bellamy-Walker
Activists bowed their heads and closed their eyes during the interfaith prayer service. Others screamed out the names of slain trans people who were murdered this year, and some stood by in the cold with tears streaming down their faces.
Dozens of people gathered at the Christopher Street Pier Friday evening — a known haven for the city’s homeless LGBTQ population. That night, Greenwich Village was the grounds for activists and mourners alike for Transgender Day of Remembrance, a yearly ceremony on Nov. 20 honoring the lives lost from transphobic violence.
With 37 trans and gender-non-conforming people murdered to date, the advocacy group the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) reports that it is seeing a record number of trans deaths since it began tracking this data in 2013.
Despite COVID-19 restrictions, TransNewYork, an advocacy group, led one of the evening’s only in-person ceremonies. As vigil-goers held candles to honor the dead, the group required people to wear masks and adhere to the state’s social distancing guidelines.
“We could gather for this as long as we have safety protocols,” said Kelvin O. Howell, Jr., the group’s deputy executive director and chief of staff. “We lost many of our sisters and brothers here.”
For Howell, these killings hit close to home. All too often, he sees trans people facing stigma in life and death.
“We’re constantly at funerals for trans people,” Howell said. “Families are misgendering our sisters and brothers in death, putting them in the wrong garments… People do what they want to do with you after you pass away.”
Transgender and gender-non-conforming victims are killed by partners, acquaintances, or strangers, reports HRC.
While HRC’s report highlights that killings disproportionately affect Black trans women, studies show that transgender men and non-binary people face significant risks, as well. A study published last year by the Williams Institute, an LGBTQ policy-focused think tank at UCLA, shows high suicide rates among trans men and non-binary people.
Experts say homelessness, unemployment, survival sex work, and widespread anti-trans stigma across healthcare institutions, workplaces, and school systems appear to increase risks for violence.
These factors can make it even harder for trans and non-binary people to feel safe.
Jennifer Louise Lopez, a transgender woman, said she often fears being outed when applying for housing.
“When I look for an apartment, which I’m doing right now, I’m scared that someone will find out that I’m a transgender woman and kill me because of it,” said Lopez, an event speaker, who touted a trans-flag inspired face mask.
The vigil comes after a string of transgender killings across the country. Earlier this year, Tony McDade, a Black transgender man was shot by a police officer in Tallahassee, Florida. Initial reports deadnamed and misgendered him.
The following month, Tiffany Harris, a Black transgender woman was fatally stabbed to death in her Bronx apartment building. The murder is suspected of being linked to her gender identity.
Harris’ friend and neighbor, Marcié Kumah, attended Friday’s vigil. Kumah told Gay City News they met up hours before Harris’ death. The two lived across the street from one another. She said the 32-year-old “fashionista” gave her a birthday gift.
“I cry because I sit on my stairs in front of my building and I would look up and sometimes I’m expecting that she’ll look into her window,” Kumah. “I watched Tiffany run up and down my block as a little person.”
“I have 20 years of love,” Kumah added. “She looked up to me.”
New York is home to more than 70,000 trans people, according to another study from the Williams Institute, giving the state one of the largest transgender populations in the nation.
Elsewhere in the Village on Trans Day of Remembrance
This story first appeared on our sister publication gaycitynews.com.