As the sun set and the temperature dropped Wednesday night, almost 50 students, faculty and community members paraded down Kirkwood Avenue, holding candles in memory of victims they never knew.
They read the names of 300 transgender people who were murdered in the past year as the result of hate crimes around the world.
The event marked the Transgender Day of Remembrance, and it was the largest IU has seen since the event’s inception. Students began honoring the day in 1998, the year Rita Hester was murdered in Allston, Mass.
Participants chalked names of the deceased on sidewalks and buildings as they walked, writing things like “down with the gendered order” and “R.I.P Victoria.”
Sounds of snare drums echoed down the street as a line of five cars followed. As they pounded on drums, no one spoke.
Sophomore Ash Kulak and other members of the Gender Warriors student group led the group toward its destination: the Monroe County Courthouse. On its front steps,
Freshmen Josie Wenig and Tom Williams read aloud names of those killed.
The Gender Warriors is a student group offering a safe and confidential support system for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender individuals. They canceled their weekly meeting at Boxcar Books to organize the candlelit vigil.
Wenig said she hopes to raise awareness for people who aren’t yet involved with queer groups at IU.
“We live in a dangerous world for queer people,” Wenig said. “But we have each other, and we can come together on days like this.”
Kulak said violence against trans-identifying people in today’s world is a huge problem, something not everyone thinks about.
“Different ways to combat violence toward gender non-conforming people of color or other intersecting factors of minority status — that needs to be driven home to people,” Kulak said. “Let’s not just memorialize trans-white people.”
Before marching to the Monroe County Courthouse, the group gathered in Dunn Meadow with organizations such as Monroe County Middle Way House and representatives from Culture of Care.
Williams gave a speech to the group, reading a statement recounting the death of Rita Hester.
The African-American transgender woman from the Boston area was about to turn 35-years-old when officers found her dead in her apartment with stabbing wounds. To this day, her murder is unsolved.
“One theory is that Rita’s murderer was a suitor who became furious when he found genitals he did not expect,” Williams read. “But Rita left a legacy.”
Today, they aimed to remember those who have given their lives “daring to live a life of authenticity,” Williams said.
Members of the Indiana Queer Prisoner Solidarity attended the event and gave speeches advocating against violence.
Khalil, one of the group’s members who asked that his last name be kept anonymous, spoke of his time in prison where he witnessed first-hand violence against transgender prisoners.
“On November 21, 2003, I was on my way to jail in Miami, Fla.,” he said. “On the bus was a transgender man who was asked to reveal his biological sex.”
Khalil paused for a moment, looking out to the audience.
“For this, he was taken off of the bus and raped in the bathroom by the prison guards,” he said.
Later Wednesday night, about half of the group at the event would branch off to gather at the Monroe County Jail, chanting in protest of what they believe is the unfair targeting of the transgender population in jails.
After the final victim’s name was read aloud at the courthouse, the group was silent. Some candles still burned, while others lie in a puddle of wax on the cement steps.
“Nothing ever makes this better or will undo what has been done,” Kulak said. “But we will work. And it will get better.”
Follow Matt Bloom on Twitter @matthew_bloom.