RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — A little over two dozen people gathered in the shadow of Richmond’s Capitol Bell Tower Sunday afternoon, bearing placards that read “Give Us Our Roses While We are Still Here.”
The activists and community members were gathered for the Transgender Day of Remembrance, and in the wake of a mass shooting in Colorado targeting LGBT people, the event took on another dimension.
“As much as I love the fact that we have a time to take care of our dead, to take care of our mourning — to be a culture of mourning,” said Aurora Higgs. “I often feel the frustration of thinking, ‘I mean, it’s a little late though.'”
Higgs is a Richmond-based scholar and activist, and during her address to the crowd, she read the poem ‘won’t you celebrate with me‘ by Lucille Clifton. The bittersweet tone of the poem was echoed by Bo Belotti, head of the Virginia chapter of the Trans Radical Activist Network, who helped organize the event.
“Transgender Day of Remembrance began in 1998 to kind of honor trans folks we’ve lost because of transphobic violence,” they said. “I think a lot of times life for trans people feels like tragedy after tragedy, and it’s really unfortunate because so much of what allies come and commemorate with us is pride, is joy, is celebration.”
Less than 24 hours earlier, 5 people were killed and 18 wounded in a mass shooting at a gay bar in Colorado Springs — a massacre that was only halted when those in the bar managed to subdue the gunman before police arrived.
Belotti said that the shooting shouldn’t be seen as an isolated incident, but as the natural extension of anti-trans legislation being signed into law across the country.
“I think they’re so deeply connected,” they said. “In a lot of ways our legislative priorities shape the violence and what we see as socially acceptable. In this case, when we see people saying drag shows should be illegal, we’re also seeing people say drag performers are groomers — and therefore need to have violence done onto them.”
In Virginia, bills restricting trans students from participating in school sports and banning transition for anyone under the age of 18 have recently been floated for the General Assembly’s upcoming January session.
Higgs said the specter of violence — which disproportionately affects trans women of color — weighs on her.
“I often operate in the day-to-day as if there is an invisible ticking clock that no one else hears but me,” she said. “And that creates a lot of anxiety.”
Still, they emphasized that mourning those lost was only part of the reason they gathered.
“Today we want to make sure we created a space to hold that grief, hold that mourning,” said Bri, a disability and trans rights organizer. “But also do a call to action to know that there are still people here that need our help.”