‘They were full and beloved people’: Vigil honors those lost to anti-trans violence

Xan Morgan (left), Director of Community Life at First Baptist Church of Ann Arbor, rings a bell during the Trans Day of Remembrance vigil in Ann Arbor. 11/20/23. (Photo via Michigan Advance)

By Michigan Advance

November 21, 2023

BY JON KING, MICHIGAN ADVANCE

In spite of a blustery day, as the sun refused to make an appearance from behind the low gray clouds, nearly two dozen people gathered Monday in downtown Ann Arbor Monday to mark 2023’s Trans Day of Remembrance.

The annual observance is held on Nov. 20 to honor the memory of those transgender people whose lives were lost in acts of anti-transgender violence.

Ann Arbor’s vigil, one of many being held across Michigan, as well as the rest of the world, was a first time collaboration between the First United Methodist Church of Ann Arbor (FUMC) and the First Baptist Church of Ann Arbor.

“It is important I think for us to gather and to have this moment of saying that not everything is right and there is still so much that we need to talk about,” said Rev. Jenaba Waggy, FUMC’s Associate Pastor, who led the vigil. “So we come together to honor the lives lost to anti-trans violence, knowing that naming those taken in prejudice and hate reminds us that they were full and beloved people.”

Rev. Jenaba Waggy, Associate Pastor of the First United Methodist Church of Ann Arbor, leads a vigil for Trans Day of Remembrance. 11/20/23. (Photo via Michigan Advance)

Waggy told the Michigan Advance the idea for the two churches to join together for this year’s vigil was partly driven by the flow of anti-trans legislation that has been introduced across the nation over the last year, but also their desire to more fully define their values.

“So we have this inclusion statement. We have this lovely rainbow-ish flag on our church, but what does that actually mean? Where are we in the community? And so in conversation with the senior pastor in conversation with the other staff, I said, ‘We need to start doing things that are active and visible and supportive,’” he said.

“And so one of the things was that Trans Day of Remembrance gets so lost sometimes because it’s right next to Thanksgiving, andI think it’s very important for the church to say ‘We have been such a part of this,’ and not only ‘We are sorry,’ but also ‘We are trying to do something with that.’ So, I thought that this year was very important for us to start that partnership.”

Xan Morgan, director of community life at First Baptist Church of Ann Arbor, also helped to lead the vigil by ringing a bell as the names were read out for each of the 26 trans individuals who have died by violence so far in 2023.

“This matters to me,” said Morgan afterward. “I have many trans friends that I care deeply about and it’s important for me to honor their lives now and to speak truth about the ways that the church has caused harm in the past and continues to, and to apologize for that. But also to think about ‘What does it look like to move towards a more just and loving life-giving way for trans people?’ And for those of us in the church community who are not trans, who are cisgender, to support them.”

The event began in 1999 to honor the life of Rita Hester, a transgender African-American woman who was murdered the year before in Allston, Mass. In the intervening two-and-a-half decades, the day has since become an international observance.

In 2012, Barack Obama became the first president to officially acknowledge the day, and while that did not continue during the Trump administration, it returned under President Joe Biden, who issued a statement on Monday marking the occasion.

“There is no place for hate in America and no one should be discriminated against simply for being themselves,” he said. “Today, on Transgender Day of Remembrance we are reminded that there is more to do [to] meet that promise, as we grieve the 26 transgender Americans whose lives were taken this year. While each one of these deaths is a tragedy – the true toll of those victimized is likely even higher, with the majority of those targeted being women of color.”

Underscoring that are statistics provided by the Human Rights Campaign (HRC), which says trans women of color “comprise approximately 4 in 5 of all known violent killings of transgender, non-binary and gender non-conforming people.”

Equality Michigan, meanwhile, said those numbers demand more than words.

“This is heartbreaking,” stated the organization. “The epidemic of violence against transgender people, especially trans women of color, is an unacceptable reality that demands our attention, empathy, and action.”

Among the actions the group hopes to continue pushing for is legislation introduced by Democrats earlier this month that would make it easier and less costly for Michiganders to change their name on official documents and have gender markers that best embody how they identify.

“Having appropriate documentation that matches how people live their lives lowers the risk of violence and discrimination for trans people,” said Equality Michigan.

While the bills didn’t get a vote before the Legislature adjourned for the year, supporters hope they will move forward as the session continues in 2024.

And if they do get to her desk, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer is expected to sign them, posting a video to social media Monday that emphasized her signing legislation earlier this year that expanded the Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act (ELCRA) to protect against discrimination based on gender identity or sexual orientation.

“I want to make one thing clear; Michigan stands with the trans community,” she said. “We fight to build a Michigan that’s more inclusive and welcoming for everyone, so no one has to live in fear of being targeted because of who they are. Earlier this year, I expanded protections under Michigan’s Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act. We took action to ensure that no one can be fired or evicted because of who they are and who they love. I want to send a message to anyone living in a state that does not respect who you are. Michigan has a place for you. Let’s keep fighting the good fight.”

Back in Ann Arbor, as cold winds swept down on the mid-day vigil, Waggy asked to close out the event with a call and response that would leave those in attendance with hope for a better future.

“We will not forget, but turn our remembrance into the cry of not one more life lost, not one more beloved forgotten. We gathered in sorrow,” he said.

“We go out in determined joy,” they responded.

“The work of remembrance is ours in every life lived fully unashamed, unafraid, beautiful, wanted and free. We gathered in sorrow,” said Waggy.

“We go out in determined joy,” they responded.

“We go out to say that the trans story is not only one of brokenness, but is also one of laughter, hope, perseverance, and love. We gathered in sorrow,” he said.

“We go out in determined joy,” they responded.

And then, many of them hugging and smiling, they appeared to do just that.

Trans Day of Remembrance vigil in Ann Arbor. 11/20/23. (Photo via Michigan Advance)

This coverage was republished from Michigan Advance pursuant to a Creative Commons license. 

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