The Cathedral Church of St. Paul in downtown Boston was dark, save for the dim light of candles held by hundreds of people who attended Sunday evening’s Transgender Day of Remembrance vigil.
Each flame, held in a cup labeled with a name, represented one of the more than 300 transgender individuals — mostly transgender women — who had died this past year.
Many shed tears as volunteers stood up, one by one, to read the names of victims from around the world.
The event is itself a reminder of all the work that is left to be done, according to Mandy Wilkens, cochair of the event’s planning committee.
“Just because we’ve won transgender protections, it’s not enough,” Wilkens said. “There’s still people dying every day due to trans violence.”
The program began in 1998 following the death of Rita Hester, a transgender woman from Brighton, Wilkens said. Hester was found murdered in her apartment just days after her 35th birthday. Since then, local Day of Remembrance events have been celebrated all over the country.
Because last year’s event — which marked the 20th anniversary of Hester’s death — was so emotional, organizers hoped this event would look toward the future.
“We’re going to be celebrating the lives of those we have lost rather than remembering their deaths,” Wilkens said. “We’re also remembering the lives of those who are here, in our community, building relationships.”
Tamra Tucker, the pastor leading the event, opened the program with a greeting, acknowledging the role that some churches have played in harming transgender individuals.
“Please know that here, in this space, you are loved,” Tucker said. “Please know that we believe there is no real God that doesn’t love you fully, completely, and perfectly as you are.”
Tre’Andre Valentine, executive director of the Massachusetts Transgender Political Coalition, urged the crowd to reflect on how they can better serve transgender women of color, particularly black transgender women, who are disproportionately affected by violence.
“I’m speaking about myself as well,” he said. “As a state, as a community, as a nation, as an entire world, we have failed.”
Several members of the community stood up to share poems, stories, and words of hope.
Senator Ed Markey took the microphone to praise the trans community’s political successes, including last November’s passing of the Question 3 ballot that barred discrimination against transgender people in public places. He also gave a shout-out to Holly Ryan of the Newton City Council, who recently became the first transgender official elected in Massachusetts.
“You are fighting; you are standing up,” Markey said. “I’m proud to be here fighting for you.”
Members of the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence, an order of queer and trans nuns, supported Sunday’s event by collecting donations to benefit the Boston Health Care for the Homeless Transgender Program and the Transgender Emergency Fund.
Sisters Heidi Sins and Gloria LeLulia said they hope to see the day when Day of Remembrance events aren’t needed anymore.
“We love the event and support it, but we wish we didn’t have to hold it,” LeLulia said.
Abigail Feldman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.