Pride Center

The Pride Center banner hanging outside the Center in Melrose Hall at 915 Volunteer Blvd on Monday, September 30, 2019.

In 2019 alone, 22 transgender people in the United States have been murdered, and the incidents of violence against transgender people have been increasing over the last several years in general.

Tuesday night, the UT Pride Center held its annual Transgender Day of Remembrance Vigil in the HSS Amphitheater. People attending gathered to honor all of the lives lost this past year due to transphobic violence, with many students being brought to tears during the event.

Candles were lit, and the names of the honored were read aloud before a moment of silence was had to reflect on the importance and gravity of the event. After the vigil, the Pride Center Coordinator Bonnie Johnson shared just how important this day was for the LGBTQ+ community.

“We’re in a more conservative area, so a lot of trans folks are kind of left out of the mainstream LGBTQ+ movement, and because of that their issues aren’t always prioritized. Like a lot of people think that we have marriage equality so everything’s fine and it’s over, but when people’s lives are still being lost because of them just being who they are, it’s not over,” said Johnson.

Johnson explained that the Pride Center hosts the event to ensure that UT is recognizing the difficulties faced by the transgender community.

“The Pride Center hosts the vigil every year to make sure that we’re both bringing visibility and awareness to this issue, and to offer both a space for trans people to feel like their struggles are acknowledged and like something’s happening to do something about it,” Johnson said.

Johnson also remarked on how the role of cisgender people in trans issues is important in raising awareness and bringing about change for the community.

“Also it’s really important to me, especially as a cisgender person, that we raise awareness and that we try to challenge other cisgender people to do something. Because it’s not trans people killing other trans people,” Johnson said.

Echoing Johnson’s thoughts, Ciara Gazaway, the Graduate Assistant at the Pride Center, emphasized how the vigil was really about creating a safe space to mourn for the trans community.

“I think for one, it allows a space for trans folks on and off campus to feel seen and heard and to mourn the lives of the siblings that were lost in this past year. First and foremost it’s for them, and it’s for these people to have the space to be with other trans folks, to share their experiences and just have time set aside to mourn the loss,” Gazaway said.

Like Johnson, Gazaway touched on the important role that cisgender people can play in working to eliminate discrimination and violence against transgender people.

“It’s not up to trans people to make all the change that needs to be done and do all the educating, just like it’s not up to gay people to end homophobia and it’s not up to the people of color to end racism; it’s up to the people of privilege. So, I think as a cis person, it’s our duty to create this space for those trans people because they’re fighting for their lives every single day,” Gazaway said.

Gazaway explained that people of every gender and orientation can support the trans community by making transgender people feel included and noticed, and events such as Tuesday night’s vigil aim to achieve this.

The Trans Day of Remembrance hosted by the UT Pride Center was just a start to the conversation of how people can step up and show support for the LGBTQ+ community. All questions and support can be directed toward Bonnie Johnson or the Pride Center at bonnie@utk.edu and pridecenter@utk.edu, respectively.

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