A Day of Remembrance, 2016 deadliest year for LGBTQ community

Cecilia G. Hernandez, Writer

Last year was the deadliest year on record for the LGBTQ and HIV-affected communities according to the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs’ “[LGBTQ] and HIV-Affected Hate Violence in 2016” report released on June 12.

In response to this hate violence, the Angelina Pedroso Center for Diversity and Intercultural Affairs participated in the annual “Transgender Day of Remembrance” vigil on Nov. 16 to honor the victims whose lives were lost in acts of anti-transgender violence.

Accompanied by NEIU’s Chamber Singers and Dr. Christopher Owen as the pianist, several of NEIU’s staff and students stepped up to the podium and read out loud over 280 reported victims’ names and their stories. Many of the victims were stabbed, burned or mutilated.

“Transgender violence is real; it’s happening around our neighborhoods, it’s not something you just see on television,” Assistant Dean of Students and Director of Undocumented Student Resources Luvia Moreno said after the vigil. “I work for my students here on campus and anything that affects my students affects me directly. This is something that touches me deeply because I am surrounded by students who identify as trans.”

The TDOR is an annual observance on Nov. 20 that was started by transgender advocate Gwendolyn Ann Smith in 1999.

Smith wanted to honor the memory of Rita Hester, a transgender woman who educated locally in Boston, Massachusetts about transgender issues and was a “highly visible member of the transgender community,” according to GLAAD’s website.

Hester was stabbed 20 times in her apartment in 1998.

Smith commemorated all the transgender people lost to violence since Hester’s death, and said she was “no stranger to the need to fight for [their] rights and the right to simply exist.”

Senior and President of Pride Alliance Alexis Abarca, along with her gender-neutral frarority Theta Pi Sigma, decided to collaborate with Moreno in continuing Angelina Pedroso Center’s annual participation in the TDOR.

“I didn’t want people to get sad,” Abarca said after seeing many people in tears during the vigil. “Don’t think of this as like a hopeless thing we can’t change forever. Use this as a way to motivate yourself to recognize what can you do to leave an impact [on communities].”

Participating in the vigil held personal significance for Abarca since she was a victim of abuse and was pointed at with a gun.

“When I first started my process, I generally didn’t know how to, kind of like navigate through my process, my transition into becoming who I really wanted to be,” Abarca said.

In the midst of emotional turmoil, the Broadway Youth Center of Howard Brown Health helped Abarca figure out what it meant to be a transgender woman and earn her GED. She met many other transgender people and got to listen to their stories of transitions and familial hardships.

Abarca said the BYC and TDOR helped her “check her privilege.” She said she knows few transgender people who are able to say their family supported them or have a safe place to live, so she said it was a blessing that her family was accepting of her.

“I feel like because these women are so oppressed and live in these situations when they do have the ability to speak up, their voices don’t have many connections to hear it,” Abarca said.

Abarca said she uses that privilege to speak up about transgender issues in events like TDOR and with her Pride Alliance club at NEIU.

Abarca approached her friend junior student Mon’e Anderson, who identifies as transmasculine, to be one of the speakers in the vigil. As Anderson was reading the names of the victims, Anderson felt “very emotional.”

“I didn’t think it was going to hit me,” Anderson said. “I was very excited for this day because, again, as an activist, as a feminist, I think that it’s important to spread awareness. But when I started reading the names, it hit me all at once. My heart dropped to know that people are dying because they just want to live in their truth and exist.”

Hearing the names of over 280 reported victims around the world killed due to anti-transgender violence, Administrative Assistant of the Angelina Pedroso Center Michael Partipilo broke down in tears.

“What touched me was not only the names but also the cause of what happened to that person … it was extremely moving,” Partipilo said.

Partipilo was asked by Moreno to assist in reading the names of the victims. As he was helping set up the event, Partipilo said he knew the TDOR would affect him because he’s an ally and identifies within the LBGTQ community.

Growing up in the LGBTQ community, Partipilo said he’s been a witness and a victim of violence.

“When I began reading the names, I just- it was just so [overwhelming] to hear how much hate exists for the LBGTQ community, for the minority, because people may or may not be … ignorant,” Partipilo said. “They may fear what they do not understand and it comes from a source of hate and they lash out.”

The TDOR drove many people to tears, but Partipilo said he saw it as a celebration of diversity at NEIU.  Instead of only focusing on the sad, Partipilo said the most important part of the vigil was to ask ourselves what we can do moving forward.

“Just educating people who come to hear the amount and the level of violence,” Partipilo said. “Events like this make it worth it,  make me proud to work in this department, for this university to become more open and share things.”

Partipilo reiterated that the Angelina Pedroso Center and NEIU “is a safe space for everybody.”

“[The Angelina Pedroso Center] is a vital piece to the university and programming like this epitomizes the necessity to continue on having it,” Partipilo said.

The Angelina Pedroso Center has six collaborating, identity-based resource areas, among them is the LGBTQA student resources. Partipilo is currently serving on the committee searching to hire an assistant director of the Angelina Pedroso Center who will be specifically overseeing the LGBTQA student resources. He said he hopes the position is filled soon.

After the TDOR vigil, many students and staff stayed in the Angelina Pedroso Center to talk about what they just heard.

“It’s still up to the people who don’t hold those identities [of non-binary or trans] to be allies because in numbers we’re stronger,” Anderson said. “As long as we exist, we’re going to make noise and we’re going to die and we’re going to fight making noise. We will not be erased; we’re here and we’re queer.”

To learn more about the resources NEIU can offer for the LGBTQ community, visit the Angelina Pedroso Center during operating hours (Monday and Friday 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. and Tuesday through Thursday from 8:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.) or join Pride Alliance by contacting them at [email protected].

Disclaimer: The reporter and writer of this piece is a student aide at the Angelina Pedroso Center.