ST. LOUIS, Mo. — There were hundreds of hand-held candles (and production lights from “I Am Cait”) as St. Louis observed the annual Transgender Day of Remembrance on Friday.
The evening saw the dedication of the first-in-the-nation Transgender Memorial Garden in the Grove neighborhood, a subsequent candlelight march, and a TDoR Memorial Service at Metropolitan Community Church of Greater St. Louis.
Members of the St. Louis and national transgender, LGBTQ, and ally community — along with Caitlyn Jenner and her cast filming season two of the E! Entertainment reality show — gathered at dusk for the dedication of the garden planted on Oct. 18.
“The change in the movement is palpable, the energy at both events reminded me why I do this work,” said Sayer Johnson, executive director and co-founder of Metro Trans Umbrella Group (MTUG), co-sponsor of both events. “I am so proud to be a part of the transgender community and I am specifically proud to be in a community with trans folk from the Metro area.”
The memorial is designed as a place of peaceful reflection, but can also serve as a rallying point and a place for ceremonies or group activities like yoga.
“We didn’t know what to expect from ‘I am Cait’s’ presence,” said MTUG president Jaimie Hileman. “We were pleasantly surprised at how it all turned out. It was a great counter-point to have the storied trans advocate Kate Bornstein speak at the dedication. We kept it unique to our community and very St. Louis.”
Immediately following the dedication was a candlelight march through the Grove LGBT gayborhood led by Queer and Trans People of Color (QTPOC), culminating with the TDoR service at MCCGSL, which Jenner also attended.
“There was a very specific intent to this year’s TDoR service,” explained Hileman. “We wanted to acknowledge that this year has seen more trans murders than any other, but also acknowledge that it has seen the most advancements.”
Rather than holding the traditional TDoR service reading the names of the dead with the ringing of a bell to mark their passing, organizers wanted to share specific information about the individuals whose lives were lost .
“They are more than chalk outlines on the ground,” said Hileman. “This was a very different TDoR, because rather than just the reading of the names, we wanted to remember them for the people that they were and in the process take some of that power back.”
TDoR was started by trans advocate Gwendolyn Ann Smith as a vigil to honor the memory of Rita Hester, a transgender woman who was killed in 1998.
The vigil commemorated all the trans people lost to violence that year and began an important memorial that has become the annual Transgender Day of Remembrance.
From 1999 forward, the service has continued, spreading across the world. A hallmark of the service is the reading of the names (where known) of all of those who have been murdered since the previous year.