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Vigil attended by SBU students and faculty honors Transgender Remembrance Day

A Stony Brook student holding a sign in honor of Transgender Remembrance Day. SBU LGBTQ Services held a vigil to observe the day on Friday, Nov. 17 at the Academic Mall fountain. ISHA SHAH/THE STATESMAN

On the evening of Nov. 17, nearly 15 Stony Brook University students and faculty gathered at the Academic Mall Fountain for a vigil to observe Transgender Remembrance Day.

Transgender Remembrance Day (TDOR) was established in 1999 by transgender activist Gwendolyn Ann Smith to memorialize Rita Hester, a transgender woman killed in her apartment in 1998. Since then, the day has been observed internationally to honor the memory of transgender, nonbinary and gender-nonconforming individuals who lost their lives to transphobia and violence. 

Maxine Moylan, the coordinator of multicultural affairs, began by acknowledging the event’s solemnity and handing out tea lights to participants. They all proceeded to walk from the fountain, past Frank Melville Jr. Memorial Library and Frey Hall, to the Student Activities Center with lights, banners and signs. 

One of the major components of the night was the reading of names of those lost to transphobic, anti-trans and gender-nonconforming violence in 2023. Earlier this year in June, the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) declared a national state of emergency for LGBTQ+ Americans due to an increase in anti-LGBTQ+ legislation. 

As of Nov. 3, the American Civil Liberties Union is tracking 508 anti-LGBTQ+ bills across the United States.  

According to an HRC report released on Nov. 20, “The Epidemic of Violence Against the Transgender and Gender Non-Conforming Community in the United States,” these bills aim to reduce transgender or nonbinary individuals’ access to school sports, school locker rooms and school bathrooms, as well as limit their access to “age-appropriate gender-affirming medical care.”

Many names on the list were taken from the HRC’s website, which has been tracking incidents of “fatal transgender violence” since 2013. But Moylan notes that the list is not and will never be “fully comprehensive.” 

“There are so many trans, nonbinary and gender-nonconforming people who maybe weren’t out to their families so their families certainly don’t put their chosen or preferred name in an obituary,” Moylan said. “People who sometimes were out to their family but in police reports and things like that use their legal or birth name which further contributes to that erasure and feeling of being lost.”

For each name read, attendees placed tea lights against the wall. In total, the list consisted of 36 names — with the youngest person being 14 years old and the oldest being 37 years old. 

Thoren Giannuzzi, a junior majoring in chemical engineering, also spoke. As the president of the Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender Alliance at Stony Brook University, they spoke about their experiences growing up queer in high school. 

“Community is really, really important and that’s how we get through this,” Giannuzzi said. “I remember when I was in high school, there was a point in which [the TDOR list] was in the hundreds.”

The Vocalists at Stony Brook, the University’s all-gender acapella group, rounded out the vigil with a performance of “Make Someone Happy” by Jule Syne, “How Deep Is Your Love” by the Bee Gees and “The Village” by Wrabel.

Besides TDOR, LGBTQ* Services also hosted its annual Rainbow Fall Feast shortly after to end the night on a more uplifting note.  

“I hope people will take away, first of all, just a sense of community,” Moylan said. “As somber as the event is, I think it’s also good particularly for trans and gender-nonconforming people to be in that room and see how many people turn out in support, even if they themselves don’t openly identify that way.”

Isha Shah contributed reporting. 

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