Trans Day of Remembrance Vigil: What Not To Do in a Queer Space

Gem Marchetti, contributor

Transgender Day of Remembrance (TDOR) is a day of reflection and mourning among the LGBTQ+ community. It is a day to remember our trans siblings who were lost to queerphobic violence. Every year, Augsburg’s Queer Pride Alliance (QPA) holds a candlelight vigil and reads the names of those who died in the year. TDOR has never been a religious experience and Campus Ministry’s presence in the past has been one of allyship, as they are invited to provide a eulogy and blessing over those who have passed. QPA worked in collaboration with Campus Ministry to create a space that was safe for queer students. This year, this was not the case. The actions of Campus Ministry created an unexpectedly uncomfortable environment that resulted in anger, frustration and largely disappointment from those in attendance. 

What was meant to be a brief nondenominational eulogy devolved into a lengthy lamentation of past transgressions towards the trans community. A room of queer and genderqueer students were led through a prayer of repentance, which read, in part: “We repent for our participation in transphobic behaviors […] We repent for our participation in violence against trans people.” Hearing these words while presenting on behalf of QPA, I felt uneasy. I recently came out as non-binary, and this was my first time attending a TDOR event. Going into that space knowing that I could have been on the list was hard enough, but to face a room of my fellow LGBTQ+ members and unknowingly guide them through those repentances was gut-wrenching. 

I was under the impression that the words shared with us were the same ones prepared for Campus Ministry’s TDOR service. In a space for cisgender and heterosexual people, who inherently participate in transphobic behavior, lamenting could have been more appropriate. Feeling guilty is part of unlearning bias and becoming an intersectional advocate for all people. However, a space designated for queer mourning is not the place to repent or ask for forgiveness. 

“The actions of Campus Ministry created an unexpectedly uncomfortable environment that resulted in anger, frustration and largely disappointment from those in attendance.”

Gem marchetti

I reached out to Dr. Babette Chapman for a copy of the litany so as to further understand, which she graciously shared with me. The document was not the same thing that was used at the vigil,  nor was it the same used in the service recorded and put on YouTube. The document brought to our event was roughly six pages long. The one shared was barely one, with no mention of repentance, and while more appropriate, still had issues. The language used in both was graphic. It’s frowned upon to describe how violently someone died while at a memorial, yet the prepared words shared that the people being mourned were “fatally shot or killed by other violent means.”

Trans people are people. We deserve to be spoken about with that same grace that Campus Ministry normally speaks with. Opening up a marginalized space to people outside of the community is a difficult endeavor. It requires trust, love and community building. This event opened my eyes to the fact that many people don’t understand the correct way to be in these spaces, and that’s okay. However, Campus Ministry’s actions were harmful. With that being said, it’s a learning curve. The way forward falls on those who are not within the community. Learn what language is acceptable, learn the history of the community you want to immerse yourself in. You’ll find that the way to treat your queer neighbors is the same as how you’d treat your cisgender or heterosexual neighbors. 

On behalf of the QPA board, I want to apologize to those present at the vigil if they also felt uncomfortable. We intended to remember those lost and honor them. Cisgender guilt was never invited into our space. To those who may feel guilt, I urge you to not make that a queer person’s problem. Know that you are welcome to join us, your support is appreciated and your learning experience is acknowledged.