Transgender Day of Remembrance was marked by the University of Glasgow on 21 November, a day after the international recognition on the 20 November. The day included raising the transgender flag on university grounds and the evening consisted of a number of speeches as well as a candlelight vigil to remember the dead.
President of the Glasgow University Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender and Queer Plus (GULGBTQ+) society, Megan Snedden, said the day was to “honour the lives of transgender people who were murdered in acts of transphobic violence and hate – this year the figure of murders reported stood at 295 – and those who took their own lives.”
The flag was raised on the north pole of the main building at midday. The flag was raised by Snedden and Dylan Beck, Gender and Sexual Diversity Officer at the Students’ Representative Council (SRC). It will stay up until the end of this week.
Mridul Wadhwa, a trans right activist for Rape Crisis Scotland and Shakti Women’s Aid, was the first speaker of the evening. She spoke about her time as a trans woman in India, and of her views on trans activism and how it can sometimes be forced upon trans individuals: “We should be engineers and so on, [and] there are so many trans people I have met recently who feel that their destiny or their safety is in activism. I feel yes, activism is great and it should be a profession if you really want it to be, but that should not be your only choice. […] Being a trans woman in a feminist organisation, I think it is about not being an activist, it’s about being comfortable with who you are, and making sure that those around you do not have the power to get you to leave, to marginalise you.”
On the subject of activism, Elain Gallagher, a poet and masters student at Glasgow University said “Today is not the day to be an activist, it’s not. […] Tonight we remember 295 people who died in hate crimes this year, more than ever before. And we should remember those people who have taken their own lives. Students my age lost to harassment at a British university, the nearly a dozen teens who died in despair in the first few days after the US elections, who knows how many more?
“Tomorrow we’ll go back to being activists and to finding allies and trying to make a change in the world. But tonight we remember our family and our community and the ones we’ve lost in this year, and we light our candles against the darkness in their memory. Tonight, we take care of each other, and we hold each other because right now more than ever before, we need one another.”
Mat Wilkie, trans and intersex officer of the GULGBTQ+ society said of the transphobic hate and violence that “it’s systemic through our societies, every year people suffer, too many of our trans community and our loved ones are murdered, just for being themselves. Too many of the dead lie in graves without their names on them, names which were never really seen as theirs. […] Every time a community member is taken from us, every time a trans person is murdered, the violence cracks us, and it cracks the community and it harms every single one of us. The trauma of the community is so great that sometimes it feels like a battle that’s already lost before it’s been started. The collective hurt is overwhelming.”
On trans violence, Wadhwa commented “I see a lot of similarities with black minorities and women’s experience of hate and of trans people’s experiences of hate, including my experiences of hate, which is that our threshold of what we report – whether it’s to our organisation that we work in or whether it’s to the police – is so high. Because the routine discrimination that we experience somehow has become normal for us, and so many other ethnic groups or minority communities have somehow been able to challenge that and make that unacceptable, but we have so much farther to go.” Snedden added “It is important to recognise that while LGBT rights are progressing, the threat of transphobic physical or verbal attacks is something which trans people still deal with on a day-to-day basis.”
The event did more than mourning the loss of members of the trans community, it also reminded attendees to fight back against those injustices. Wilkie said “To those people, siblings, we remember you, we mourn you, we use your memory to bring us strength in our fight. We are asked to say their names, but on the list every year of the name of the dead, there’s always those missed whose murder was misreported or unreported. Whose names we can’t say, and to those people we mourn you, we remember you, we love you without even knowing you. We use your memory in our strength onward.”
Wadhwa stated that fighting back, in her eyes, was to “make every injustice that we experience heard. We should complain, we should report, let them know that this is happening.” She added “I do think that the way forward for us is to keep talking, reporting, and to believe that we have a right to be everywhere and that no one should tell us otherwise. People get away with a lot of violence, and that violence is not physical, it’s emotional, it is about not including you in a conversation or including you last in a conversation that impacts you.”
Wadhwa said that her particular area of work was with Black Minority Ethnic women and trans people. To the room filled with students, she ended her speech by saying “If you are campaigning around trans rights, you need to be asking your university to how will they respond to a migrant student who is trans or LGBT, and how will they respond if they find it impossible to return back to their homes. How will they respond if they experience violence while they are an international student here? Because I can tell you they won’t have an answer for you until you ask them. So be prepared with your questions and get them to have a policy and a response statement.”
At the end of his speech, Wilkie offered a message of hope and comfort to the trans community: “whilst we remember those that we lost, please remember that you are loved, you are vital, you are needed, there’s hope in everyday action and the way that you live your ordinary lives. As we say every year: let us mourn for the dead, but fight like hell for the living.”
The speeches were followed by a candlelight vigil in the cloisters, which consisted of two minutes of silence to honour the lives lost to transphobic violence and hate.
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