On an altar, Students placed photographs of each person killed from transphobia violence in 2019. “I find it a really hard day,” Jay Hinchman, president of the LGBTQ Alliance, said. “One day, one of us could be on the altar.”
On an altar in Emerson Library last week were the names and photographs of every person in the U.S. who was killed due to reported transphobia violence in 2019.
In the silent conference room, students formed a single-file line, waiting to place electronic candles among the faces of the dead. Several students could be seen mouthing the victims’ names.
Webster’s LGBTQ Alliance held a memorial service on Nov. 20, the International Transgender Day of Remembrance . For the past 20 years, the day has commemorated those who have lost their lives as a result of anti-transgender violence.
“I find it a really hard day,” Jay Hinchman, president of the LGBTQ Alliance, said. “One day, one of us could be on [the altar].”
Hinchman has served as president of the student group for the past two years. The alliance’s mission is to provide a safe space for all LGBTQ students and ensure they have people to rely on if they ever face troubles.
Hinchman said the alliance also has a big focus on education, not only for members of the LGBTQ community, but for allies.
For Hinchman, that need for safety bears particular relevance in the Midwest.
“We’re in an area where it’s not very safe to be trans,” Hinchman said.
The Human Rights Campaign (HRC) has reported murders of transgender individuals in at least 12 states throughout the country this year, including Missouri and Kansas.
The HRC notes that putting together an accurate accounting of transgender murder victims can be challenging. Too often, these stories go unreported or misreported, as its website states. In many cases, according to the HRC, police statements and media coverage often inaccurately portray victims’ gender identities.
Hinchman sees this misgendering in news and among family or friends as harmful to the progression of transgender rights.
“You don’t have to understand it at all to respect someone’s identity,” Hinchman said. “Just respect it, just use it. That’s who they are.”
However, for many trans women of color, the fight goes beyond respect – it is a matter of life and death. In a statement released this summer, the American Medical Association pointed out the amplified physical dangers faced by this marginalized group of women.
“According to available tracking, fatal anti-transgender violence in the U.S. is on the rise and most victims were black transgender women,” AMA Board Member S. Bobby Mukkamala said. “The number of victims could be even higher due to underreporting and better data collection by law enforcement is needed to create strategies that will prevent anti-transgender violence.
Webster Vigil attendee Grace Schmitt highlighted the racial inequity between transgender murder victims.
“Trans women of color are targeted,” Schmitt said. “It’s very important that it’s talked about because it’s become an epidemic.”
Hinchman and fellow alliance members have made efforts to ensure that people of all backgrounds are represented at alliance functions.
“We bring in people that are part of the community, that are people of color,” Hinchman said. “I want [our students] to hear their message, from their voices.”
Beyond Transgender Day of Remembrance and honoring the lives of transgender murder victims, Hinchman and Schmitt both said that the world of politics will prove to be a key battleground when it comes to the continued struggle for transgender rights.
“Policies need to change to give trans people legal protections from discrimination and hate,” Schmitt said.
Currently, the Missouri Non-Discrimination Act prohibits employers, renters, businesses owners and more from discriminating on the basis of race or national origin. This piece of legislation, commonly referred to as “MONA,” offers no protections for LGBTQ Missourians subject to discrimination.
“Getting MONA to include gender identity is very important for trans liberation,” Schmitt said.
Hinchman said that the upcoming presidential election in particular, will be a vital time for the transgender community and its allies to afftect change. “Stop electing people that are going to keep promoting your anti-trans b*******,” Hinchman said. “Stop it. Respect us. Stop murdering us.”