The International Transgender Day of Remembrance Candlelight Vigil was held on Nov. 20 to memorialize transgendered individuals who have been killed around the world through acts of violence over the last year due to their gender identity.
Mayor Ralph Becker named Nov. 20 as the official day of remembrance for Salt Lake City. Friends, family members and members of Utah’s transgender community met in Taylorsville alongside city police officers from each police department in the Salt Lake valley to participate in the memorial.
“Today we stand in unity with thousands of people around the world to denounce all forms of violence and oppression, including gender-based violence. These lives matter, and the silence left from their deaths is unacceptable,” says Candice Metzler, board president of Transgender Education Advocates (TEA) of Utah during her opening remarks.
The names of every victim were read by LGBT supporters and members of the community including police officers who were there to show their support.
“One of the things, as far as my role, is to make sure that every member of our community no matter what their background, what language they speak, what they look like, what their gender identity is, is that they feel welcomed and they feel equally protected,” says Chris Burbank, Salt Lake City chief of police.
Concerns surfaced from some in the transgender community about the presence of police officers, but TEA of Utah’s vice president of the board, Alex Miller explained.
“We all stand together united for this cause, because if we’re serious about a solution-based program, then we have to be willing to build community with those of authority,” says Miller. “Officers here have volunteered to read the names of our dead.”
Burbank cultivates and encourages diversity in his department in hopes that the department will more accurately reflect the citizens of the community and serve in a better way.
“We’re a microcosm of society. So, we are made up of all the bias, the prejudices, concerns and issues and experience that all the rest of the community is,” says Burbank. “I’m looking for people that are engaged and wanting to participate with all members of the community.”
This year marked the tenth anniversary of the memorial in Salt Lake City and the fifteenth anniversary globally. The event began in San Francisco in 1999 as a memorial to remember Rita Hester, a transgender woman who was stabbed to death in her apartment in the Boston area.
Each year, hundreds of individuals who identify themselves under the transgender umbrella are killed in hate crimes.
“Trans-people aren’t just being murdered, we’re being annihilated. Our bodies are mutilated, disfigured, subjected to de-humanizing atrocities. We aren’t just stabbed, we’re burned, eviscerated, dismembered and thrown in the trash like garbage,” says Miller.
According to Mayor Becker’s proclamation, often times, gender-related hate crimes go unreported, so statistics are not completely accurate. “Because of false and under-reporting of gender identity statistics, we may never know exactly the number of lives lost as a result of hatred, bigotry and transphobia.”
Miller praised those who were in attendance and encouraged the audience to be courageous in speaking out against hate crimes and in coming together to form alliances with police officers and community members.
“Tonight we have an audience who can help make that a reality,” says Miller. “But it means we have to be willing to sit through our discomfort, we have to be willing to sit through our rage, we have to be willing to acknowledge tonight is not about us. And we have to have difficult conversations with those who show up.”
According to Chief Burbank, the community plays a key role in the eradication of crime, specifically gender-hate crimes.
“There will never be enough police officers to prevent crime from occurring. But we absolutely have enough good community members and enough people living in society to stop crime from happening as long as they are willing to participate with the police,” says Burbank.
Burbank expects his officers to gain and then maintain the trust of the people.
“If they don’t trust us they’re not going to tell us about the crime that’s being committed in their community,” says Burbank. “And so, why would we ever, as a police department, want to alienate any segment of society? We want everybody to be able to come forward. That’s how, as a society, we prevent crime from occurring.”