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A spirit that is not afraid

"Happiness should be worth the risk": Spectrum holds Trans Day of Remembrance

Auburn students participate in the 2022 Trans Day of Remembrance at the Auburn Memorial Garden on Nov. 18, 2022.
Auburn students participate in the 2022 Trans Day of Remembrance at the Auburn Memorial Garden on Nov. 18, 2022.

Attending college as a trans woman in the heart of the South was never going to be easy. Around campus, Luna, sophomore in history, has received dirty looks and hate-filled glares from those that overheard her talking about being trans or spotted the pink, blue and white pins she sometimes wears.

In smaller classes, her classmates have refused to use her pronouns out of disrespect, and there was the graduate assistant that continually refused to gender her correctly despite being told numerous times.

Yet despite all that animosity shown towards her, things have yet to turn violent. By that measure, Luna could be considered one of the lucky ones.

On a chilly Friday night that marked the beginning of Thanksgiving break, six people gathered at the Auburn University Memorial Garden to recognize the Trans Day of Remembrance.

The event, which was held two days before the nationally-recognized date of Nov. 20, was intended to memorialize transgender individuals who lost their lives in the past year to bigotry and gender-based violence.

“It's definitely a very good thing to remember those that we have lost, and it's a reminder to me that as a trans person, yes, there are dangers in the world that we face specifically,” Luna said, “but it also helps me remember that I get the chance to live my life, and that I should live it being my genuine self.”

That reminder came with the reading of the names of 70 trans people that were murdered since the last vigil was held this time last year, divided by two separate 35-second moments of silence and a solo rendition of Alison Krauss’ "I'll Fly Away."

Those whose names were mentioned were young and old and of all different backgrounds, from Mississippi to McLean, Va., and everywhere in between.

The vigil, which was organized and led by Auburn Spectrum Programming and Events Chair Jordan Merriweather, junior in art, was part of a broader program aimed at fostering acceptance on campus.

“One of the things that leads to transphobia is a lack of understanding or miseducation, so we try to have educational talks and stuff like that,” Merriweather said. “Racism, xenophobia and all of that is stemmed in the fear of the unknown, where many people don't understand and they act in fear of it; one of the ways Spectrum helps with that is having that space of understanding.”

With the prevalence of deadly violence against trans people across the country, which increased by 93% from 2017 to 2021 according to an October 2020 report by Everytown for Gun Safety, those in attendance felt nothing could be taken for granted.

Especially for those most near and dear to them.

“My girlfriend is transgender, and so there's a logical knowledge of knowing that she has a significantly more dangerous life than I do just for the sheer fact of her existence,” said former President of Auburn Spectrum and Auburn graduate Heather Mann. “Having a day that we can remember those people who are taken from us too soon, whether by other people's hands, or through the cold, uncaring hands of society, it's important that their stories are heard.”

The memorial also served as a platform to show solidarity with trans students who know those in attendance but could not attend the event themselves.

“I have a lot of friends that fit under the trans umbrella. It's just time to remember people's lives and make sure that everyone else knows that their lives are worth it,” Merriweather said. “It just kind of is a moment to make sure that I am standing up for my friends.”

While the overarching theme of the vigil was deadly violence against trans people, it was not the only reason those that braved the cold felt compelled to show up.

Despite the significant progress that has been made regarding the acceptance and welcoming of trans people on campus, such as the ability to change one’s name and pronouns on Canvas and the creation of the Pride Center in the Haley Center, those in attendance felt that there is much work yet to be done.

According to Mann, residential assistants are currently not required to undergo safe zone training, which can lead to contentious and even dangerous living situations in on-campus housing. 

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A lack of signifier identifying someone as an LGBTQ ally on housing forms, which is currently the case, can contribute to such uncomfortable roommate dynamics.

It served as a reminder that those who showed up were not just protesting the deadly violence perpetrated against trans people. But until that violence no longer exists, vigils like the one held Friday will continue to be held year after year.

“We're all brothers, sisters, siblings, and so their deaths are ours to mourn, and our existence isn't up for debate. You can disagree and argue all you want, but that doesn't erase the fact that we're gonna be here, we're gonna exist,” Mann said. “All these people who disagree with everything, want to legislate everything, they're not going to get rid of us.”

Daniel Schmidt | Assistant News Editor

Daniel Schmidt, senior in journalism, is the assistant news editor for the Auburn Plainsman. 

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