The lost voices of transgender individuals killed in 2017 could be heard in the poems, songs and speeches delivered outside Austin City Hall on Monday night for the annual Transgender Day of Remembrance candlelight vigil.
The event, which is a part of Transgender Awareness week, was put on by the Transgender Education Network of Texas. Event attendees honored the 28 transgender people that have been killed in the U.S. and the 300 that have been killed across the world this past year.
“We hear the phrase a lot that these people were killed because they were transgender, and I want to rephrase that because being authentic isn’t a death sentence,” trans rights activist Ash Hall said. “Being authentic is a birthright. These people were killed because of hatred.”
TENT Executive Director Lisa Scheps said although Austin is more accepting than other Texas cities, policies passed by state officials still infringe on minority rights.
“Austin tends to be more progressive than the other cities in Texas, but our state policymakers and lawmakers haven’t been very kind to our gender diverse population,” Scheps said. “We are here to tell them that we do exist, we have value and we won’t be quieted.”
Rev. Carmarion Anderson, a black transgender woman, shared her personal goals for equality.
“Authenticity means that I can go to a restaurant, and if there is a male and female bathroom, that I can choose whatever I need to release — that will quench my thirst,” Anderson said. “We need to target and confront that.”
Earlier this month, one Austin man was found guilty of murdering a transgender woman in January of 2016.
“Here in the city of Austin if assault and murder can happen, how scary must it be in communities that are infinitely more hostile than the one in which we live?” Equality Texas CEO Chuck Smith said. “We must empower trans and non-binary people to be advocates.”
Hall said activists will continue this project until there are no empty chairs on the stage representing the transgender lives that have been taken.
“It is important to me to do this project, to do this remembrance out here in the open on the city hall lot where the public can see us,” Scheps said. “Because we are a proud people, we want people to know we exist, that we can’t be dismissed and we certainly can’t be thrown away.”