Students gathered in the Sykes Theater on Nov. 20 at 7 p.m. to honor the National Transgender Day of Remembrance. The Transgender Day of Remembrance is observed annually on Nov. 20 as a day to memorialize those who have been murdered as a result of transphobia.
Students shared their personal stories, read poetry, held a candlelight vigil and talked about the continued violence that is endured by the transgender community. “If there’s anything that trans people should be remembered by, it’s their dauntless attitude that keeps them surviving,” said disability rights advocate from Philadelphia Sam Marks.
According to the Human Rights Campaign, in 2017 at least 25 transgender people in the United States have been fatally shot or killed by other violent means. That number does not include the deaths that go unreported.
“We’re just now starting to get some rights. We’re not liberated, we’re not where we should be because we’re still suffering,” said Marks. “Liberation comes when transgender women and men have a much higher life expectancy than 22. But it pushes forward when Andrea Jenkins and Phillipe Cunningham recently became the first ever trans city officials.”
The Williams Institute, a law institute at the University of California, Los Angeles researched sexual orientation law, gender identity law and public policy. In 2014 they discovered that 46 percent of trans men and 42 percent of trans women have attempted suicide. They also found that suicide rates were highest among trans people between the ages of 18-24, those who are multiracial and those with an education of a high school degree or less.
“My life didn’t get easier when I transitioned,” said Marks. “I was trying to refresh and reevaluate the idea that the people had painted of me and the majority of the world has a very bad word for. That stereotypical idea of your character and that can take a toll on your overall mental health.”
Senior psychology and women and gender studies student, LGBTQA peer educator and President of Sexuality and Gender Alliance Student Organization Austin Angiollilo led the remembrance day and shared his story. Assigned female at birth, Austin recalls feeling like he was living as the wrong gender since the age of three.
“I already knew I wasn’t like the other girls. I already knew that I was meant to be a boy even though everybody around me kept telling me that was not the case,” said Angiollilo. “I started to hate myself so much as the years went on because all I could think about was the fact that I wanted to be a man and I knew that I was a man. It was more than a want, it was something I knew about myself, and I just didn’t understand why people wouldn’t let me do that.”
Angiollilo felt like he lost everything. One of his high school teachers noticed that something was not right and kept him after school to talk. “For the first time in my life someone cared,” said Angiollilo. “It was the first time that somebody in my life said ‘you are valid, you matter, you should be here, you’re not going to be one of those names.’ And now I call that person ‘mom’ because for all intents and purposes, she’s my mom.”
Not all of these stories have a happy ending. The remembrance ceremony acknowledged and read 235 names of those who lost their lives around the world in 2017 alone. Each of the names were given to attendees of the event and were placed on the theater stage with a flower remembering the fight they fought over the course of their lives.
“We are going to name them because, like I said: names are important, titles are important. They worked for these names, we should say their names,” said Angiollilo. Reading the names of those who have passed on Transgender Day of Remembrance always played a significant role in Angiollilo’s life. “To me that always meant that the fight isn’t over, and it’s not over because there are a lot of people that wish they could be here like I have the privilege of being here,” Angiollilo said.
West Chester University does not stand for transphobia, and Angiollilo does everything in his power to make sure that everyone does not feel the way that he did. “When people come to me and they say ‘I want to be called this,’ I make sure that whatever it takes for me to ensure that happens for them [and] it will get done,” said Angiollilo. “Whether that’s their email getting changed, their ID getting changed, whether that’s socially making sure that everybody uses the right name and pronouns. I never want anybody to feel the way I did, and that is my goal.”
For more information on the services that West Chester provides please contact Interim Coordinator of LGBTQA Services Sherry Mendez at SMendez@wcupa.edu or by phone at 610-436-0732 or the SAGA Student Organization at 610-436-3351.
Erin McFeeters is a fourth-year student majoring in communication studies with a minor in journalism. She can be reached at EM857951@wcupa.edu.
Alexa Brennan is a fourth-year student majoring in English with a minor in journalism. She can be reached at AP713454@wcupa.edu.