Dozens of candles glowed outside Simmons University Saturday afternoon as community members gathered to mark the annual Transgender Day of Remembrance, honoring 60 lives lost to violence in the United States this year, including an admired Boston activist.
This vigil and others like it are held each Nov. 20 to remember the transgender, non-binary, and gender-nonconforming people who have been killed because of their identities.
As in most years, the majority of the candles were labeled with the names of trans women of color.
“There are so many words that I could say, but I can’t. The loss is too deep and it continues to happen to our community,” Nicholas McCaskill, vice president of TransResistance MA, said at the vigil, according to video streamed online by organizers. “But we are a resilient community, and we have been persevering all this time, and we will continue to do so.”
One of the victims remembered Saturday was Jahaira DeAlto, a 42-year-old transgender woman of color who was a respected advocate for transgender rights and domestic violence prevention. DeAlto and another woman were stabbed to death in a Dorchester apartment on May 2.
“Jahaira was such a beautiful soul, and she has instilled so many great qualities into our community members, including myself,” McCaskill said. “I met Jahaira seven years ago at the church we used to hold the vigil at, and she just grabbed me by the hand and knew I needed to be moved. And that is part of what she is known for: bringing young people into her circle.
“She has saved so many lives out there and she continued to support her community by preventing domestic violence, which unfortunately is the very reason she is not with us here today,” he continued.
Rita Hester, another trans woman of color, was also brutally killed in Boston. She was found dead in her Allston apartment in 1998 — a case that has yet to be solved.
Hester’s death inspired the first Transgender Day of Remembrance in 1999, along with a mural that will honor her legacy in Allston, said Lala Shanks, community consultant to the Legacy of Rita Hester Mural Project.
“She was family-oriented, involved in the rock scene, had a love of performing, described by family, biological and chosen, as fearless and sweet-hearted,” Shanks said at the vigil. “She was only 34 when she was killed in her own apartment.”
The Allston mural will be the first public work of art in Boston to honor Hester’s life, Shanks said.
“This is only a step in the larger effort to create a climate and infrastructure that allows for trans folk, Black trans folk especially, to thrive with an abundance of opportunity and to take up space to do the liberating work that is led by and for the community,” Shanks said.
Remembrance events were also planned locally in Norwell, Lexington, and on Cape Cod this weekend to honor DeAlto, Hester, and other transgender people lost to violence.
“Not only remember the lives that were lost in 2021 but remember the lives that were lost before now. We cannot forget them,” McCaskill said. “They are why we are here, and we will not forget.”
While the vigil was meant to remember the dead, it gave participants like Charlese Horton, a Black transgender woman, a chance to hope, she said.
“When I came out at 14, they told me I wouldn’t make it to 18,” Horton told the crowd. “Then, they told me I wouldn’t make it to 21. Then they told me I wouldn’t make it to 30. To 35. I’ll be 44 next week. I’m here.”