They were kidnapped, tortured and mutilated. Shot, strangled, burned or beaten to death. They had lives as business owners, activists, students, sex workers and media personalities. But they were killed—by family members, partners, neighbors and classmates.
On Tuesday night, their names echoed through the Utah Capitol Rotunda:
Brooklyn Lindsey from Kansas City, Mo.
Miranda Pilar Ruíz from El Empalme, Ecuador.
Amma Hajjani from Sindh, Pakistan.
And many more—285 in all.
“Rest in power,” people in the audience said, taking turns to stand at a podium and read off the names of the transgender people across the globe who were known to have lost their lives as a result of transphobic violence in 2019.
More than 100 people gathered for the emotionally wrenching service, held as part of the Transgender Day of Remembrance, an international event every November. It began in 1999 as a candlelight vigil to pay tribute to Rita Hester, an African-American transgender woman whose murder remains unsolved to this day. On Tuesday night, many of the victims whose names were read out loud were also transgender women of color—representing the disproportionate amount of violence they endure, even at a time when trans visibility has become more mainstream.
“I always think, ‘It could’ve been me,’” Olivia Jaramillo, one of the vigil organizers, told the crowd. Born in Mexico, Jaramillo recounted the story of a childhood friend from her hometown—a trans woman who lived a rich life but then was brutally murdered, her decapitated body left at the door of a popular LGBTQ hangout.
“It’s scary, sometimes, just to go to the grocery store. It can cause so much anxiety just to be ourselves,” Jaramillo said, emphasizing the terrifying stakes that trans people face every day in pursuit of living as they really are.
This week, 285 transgender pride flags were planted on the lawn outside the City and County Building in downtown Salt Lake as part of the Transgender Day of Remembrance. In the Capitol, the nine-member One Voice Choir sang a heavenly version of the Latin hymn "Dona nobis pacem"—or “Grant Us Peace”—before dozens of attendees at the Tuesday-night vigil lined up to read the names of the dead.
Many wept, their voices quaking with grief as they struggled to read aloud the gruesome details of what happened to each casualty, who came from Mexico, Brazil, India, the Philippines, Turkey, the United States. Unidentified victims were described as “a beautiful person whose name is unknown.” It took nearly an hour to recite all 285 names.
During other parts of the vigil, speakers called for people to stand up in support of trans, non-binary and gender-nonconforming friends, family and peers. Indeed, this night of remembering was also a night to think about solutions and push for a better world.
“What is your power?” Jaramillo said, urging the audience to use whatever skills and talents they have at their disposal. “It is up to all of us to start standing up.”
“Hate is learned. But because it is learned, it can be unlearned,” said Samantha Taylor, who manages LGBTQ+ SafeZone, a local initiative that provides resources and support across the state. “Compassion, understanding and empathy are the antidotes.”