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Remembrance vigil pays tribute to transgender community

In front of a crowd at Syracuse City Hall on Wednesday night, Terri Cook said it was difficult to write her speech because it is hard for her to think about violence against the transgender community.

Cook was among a group of speakers at the Transgender Day of Remembrance Vigil at city hall. The vigil honored the lives of those who died because of the expression of their gender, and included several representatives from the transgender and Syracuse communities.

During her speech, Cook said she attended the vigil to celebrate the life of LaTeisha Green — a Syracuse resident who was murdered in 2008 for being a transgender woman — in addition to others who lost their lives because of their identities.

As a mother of a transgender child, Cook wanted to be there for Green’s mother to let her know that her daughter’s life mattered to people more than just her family and friends.

“I have dreams, hopes and fears for my children,” she said. “But as a parent of a transgender child, there’s an added layer of worry and fear that I could never imagine or prepare for. There’s a fear that my son could be harmed or beaten or killed simply for being who he is.”

Elliott DeLine, a recent Syracuse University graduate, led the vigil, which honored and immortalized those who have lost their lives this year for the way they expressed their gender.

DeLine read off the names of the 16 people in the United States who have been murdered this year for being transgender. Three more candles were lit for the murder victims in Brazil, those who committed suicide and Green.

Al Forbes, a graduate intern at the LGBT Resource Center, said the center decided to hold a vigil after Green’s murderer was released on a technicality during the summer.

“It shook up our community in Syracuse, knowing someone that was actively violent in a major way was released,” he said.

Forbes and other members from the Syracuse community spoke at the vigil, including Syracuse Police Chief Frank Fowler, who spoke on behalf of Mayor Stephanie Miner.

Fowler said it is the city’s goal to ensure everyone’s safety. He emphasized Miner’s support for the community, including the local law that bars discrimination against people based on their identity and gender expression. He said the mayor and the city will continue to support the transgender community and encouraged the crowd to be active in raising awareness. 

“Violence is born out of ignorance,” Fowler said. “Continue to be brave, continue to educate, because it is through your bravery and through your education that this community will get better.”

Sarah Kench, a senior art video major, creates videos about her transgender identity to raise awareness.

Last week, Kench took a sign from the Trans* Lives Matter campaign in the grassy area between Schine Student Center and the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications. She attached it to her backpack and walked back and forth in front of Schine as a way to make the campaign more visible.

She said some people asked her about what she was doing, some smiled and gave her thumbs-up and others walked by.

“I was just hoping that when they’re walking by, they’re reading it, whether they agreed or not,” she said.

Although Kench said she did not receive a negative response from her actions, other signs from the Trans* Lives Matter campaign were vandalized on Friday.

Forbes said the signs were ripped from the ground and stepped and spat on. When he found out, he said it was a shock and a disappointment, but he needed time to sit back and reflect on the vandalism.

“When something happens, people expect this automatic reaction in that moment,” he said. “I really appreciate the framework we have here about, ‘It’s OK to take the time.’”

Kench, who attended the vigil, said the rest of her efforts are through not hiding her identity and going on with her life.

“I live, and people see me and they get to know me,” she said. “They get to realize that I’m a real person. I have the same dreams and hopes and desires and fears and pains as they have.”

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