Patti Hayes never noticed people staring at them until it started happening often during their study abroad trip in Thailand. Hayes, a Webster student who identifies as gender queer, said they are now more aware of how presenting themselves as visibly queer could potentially make them a target for hate.
“I was talking to my friend about me noticing someone staring at me and looking at me weird,” Hayes said. “He was like ‘Yeah, that happens all the time.’ And I’m like ‘Wow’, so now I’m more aware of it.”
On Nov. 20, a vigil was held in the Transgender Memorial Garden in St. Louis in honor of Transgender Day of Remembrance, which seeks to memorialize those who were murdered for identifying as transgender. The annual event remembered the lives of 22 transgender people killed in hate crimes over the last year.
Shelley Tibbs-Moore spoke at the vigil. Tibbs-Moore said she has only identified publicly as transgender for three years, so speaking at the event felt liberating.
“You don’t even realize the burden’s there until it’s not there,” Tibbs-Moore said. “The first year I was out here, I spent my time on my knees in the mud in the rain, just crying for the people that were on the wall.”
A speaker read aloud each victim’s name before illuminating a tree in memory of the person. Tibbs-Moore said she felt the event carried importance because it created an opportunity to remember lives lost.
“You die two deaths, when you’re drawing your last breath and your name is spoken for the last time,” Tibbs-Moore said. “It’s my big goal not to let the names be spoken for the last time.”
Hasmik Chakaryan is an assistant professor in the Department of Professional Counseling at Webster and Director of the Clinical Program. Chakaryan also served as a board member at the University of Missouri St. Louis’ Transgender Spectrum Conference and works with the Metro Trans Umbrella Group. Chakaryan said she believes almost all transgender people have experienced some form of hate.
Chakaryan said cyberbullying and graffiti are two of the most prominent forms of transphobia in St. Louis. She said this kind of hate can lead to depression and anxiety, possibly pushing a victim to commit suicide.
“These are individuals who feel that they don’t belong within a community,” Chakaryan said. “They feel like an outcast. They feel like there is no place for them to voice their concerns, their feelings, their thoughts. So when you are isolated and then you add all the other external factors, those together can push somebody over the edge.”
Hayes said they do not go out often. When they do, they spend their time in queer spaces where they are accepted, like drag shows. They said it is nice to be around people with similar experiences and to not have to constantly explain their gender.
Chakaryan said hate crimes are rooted in ignorance. She said those who commit hate crimes often grow up in places that do not have diversity and form groups with people who feel similarly to them.
“When you don’t know something, you may start fearing that [thing], but when you start asking questions and becoming a more critically thinking community member, you start understanding more,” Chakaryan said. “As your understanding expands, your worldview expands.”
Hayes said education about LGBTQ+ history from a young age will lead to a better understanding of transgender individuals’ struggles. This, they said, will lead to less stigmatization of transgender people in American culture.
Hayes said it is important to allow transgender voices to speak at events such as Transgender Day of Remembrance.
“People who aren’t directly impacted by the issue being talked about need to learn that to be an ally doesn’t mean talking for them,” Hayes said. “It means giving them room to talk. You can talk at these events, but you also need to make sure you’re including the voices that are impacted because those are who needs to be heard.”
Tibbs-Moore said she feels educating people about transgender issues will solve hate crimes. She said she talks to people every day about her experiences as a transgender person.
“They find out, ‘Hey, I’m not really all that different,’” Tibbs-Moore said. “If I talk to two or three people and they talk to two or three people, there’s less hate in the world.”