Utahns remember transgender lives lost

SALT LAKE CITY — While writing her speech for Wednesday evening, Samantha Taylor struggled with what to say about the hundreds of transgender people — and the thousands who came before them — who were killed or took their own lives this year.

Should she say they died for a greater cause? That they made a sacrifice for others in the transgender community? That their deaths were meaningful?

No, Taylor decided. She wouldn’t.

“I won’t say that,” Taylor, who co-chairs the LGBTQ SafeZone Project, told a crowd gathered in the Utah State Capitol’s rotunda. “I can’t say that. These were ordinary people simply trying to go about their lives.”

To say any of those things, she decided, would be to “give meaning to these senseless acts of violence.”

Instead, Taylor and dozens of other Utahns came together on the annual Transgender Day of Remembrance to pay tribute to the lives of those who died — “people who paid the ultimate price for daring to live authentically, for having the courage to be the people they wanted to be,” said master of ceremonies Sophia Hawes-Tingey.

One by one, more than 30 volunteers read aloud the names of all 285 transgender people around the world who died in 2019. Many had been murdered; others took their own lives. Some, unable to be identified, were recorded without names.

Olivia Jaramillo, a transgender woman, recalled a close childhood friend in Mexico who was born biologically male. The two lost touch after Jaramillo moved to the U.S. in her early teens.

But years later, when Jaramillo was in her mid-twenties, she heard from her grandmother back home. Her friend was now living as a woman, Jaramillo’s grandmother said.

Another decade passed, and more news came from Mexico: her friend had been murdered, her body resting against the door outside a popular LGBT hangout spot.

“I always think that could have been me,” Jaramillo said. “What would have happened if I had never immigrated to this country?”

She encouraged transgender people in attendance Wednesday night to be brave, as her childhood friend was, and to speak up for their rights and for respect from society.

“I hear you, brothers and sisters. It is hard,” Jaramillo said. “It is painful. It is intimidating. It is scary to get out here. And it’s scary sometimes just to go to the grocery stores to get basic groceries. It can cause so much anxiety just to be ourselves.

“But if we don’t start standing up for ourselves,” she continued, “if we don’t go out there and make a difference, what will happen to future generations if we don’t do something right?”

Jaramillo asked the non-transgender people in the audience to consider how they could make a difference as well — whether through writing, art, public speaking, activism or some other means.

As the names of the 285 victims of 2019 were read aloud, then as small cards bearing those names were hung on sparkling trees of light, tears were shed on both sides of the podium.

Those who died this year, and in previous years, were “courageous,” Taylor said. “Every day they faced a world that was not ready for them, and they were unapologetically themselves.”

They were also loved, she reminded the crowd.

“Each one of these souls touched lives during their short time here,” Taylor said. “Every time one of these lights is lost, we all feel the darkness.”