An altar was set up with photos of those being remembered, including Johana Medina Leon and Tamika Simone Washington.
Photo by Yvonne Gonzalez

Students and Santa Cruz residents gathered at the Santa Cruz Town Clock on Nov. 17 to hold a candlelight vigil in honor of Transgender Day of Remembrance. The Diversity Center, a local organization dedicated to serving the LGBTQIA+ community, hosted the annual vigil for a second time. 

The Diversity Center’s Transgender Program Coordinator, Ezra Bowen, co-organized the vigil with volunteer trans support group facilitator Elliot Lloyd. Bowen also acted as the emcee for the night. 

A list of trans folks who were murdered or went missing around the world in 2019 was pinned to a brick pillar. An altar adorned with flowers, candles and pictures of those lost bordered the crowd. Attendees were greeted with invitations to hot chai and homemade pie and given small candles to light.

Women of color comprised a majority of names on the list, and speakers emphasized LGBTQIA+ issues as ones intertwined with race and ethnicity. One of the poems that Bowen read, titled “Litanies to My Heavenly Brown Body,” centered the complexities of trans existence. 

“It’s super important for people to be aware that it’s still a really horrible time in the world for trans folks everywhere,” said Wren Reeve, a 19-year-old volunteer for the Diversity Center. “People need to know who they can turn to for support and who they can turn to when they want to be allies.” 

Bowen opened the vigil with a statement followed by a musical performance by UC Santa Cruz alum Fer Veliz. Attendees solemnly listened as the sounds of Veliz’s gentle ukulele floated through the air. 

While a sense of sadness hung over the event, community and support also shone through. When guests were invited to speak, some talked about personal experiences of losing LGBTQIA+ friends and the importance of being there for LGBTQIA+ colleagues, peers and family members. For them, the vigil served as a much-needed space for healing. 

The community gathered for a candlelit vigil to honor the memory of the trans folks whose lives were lost in 2019. Photo by Yvonne Gonzalez

“I wanted to remember my friend Lloyd and I wanted to connect with other trans people in the community,” said Paloma Medina, a UCSC graduate student. “It gives me space for grief. I celebrate queerness a lot, but with that there’s also grief in our hearts.” 

After Veliz’s rendition of “Stay With Me” by Sam Smith, Erin Roldan, a lead peer educator intern at the Cantú Queer Center, briefly spoke, stating, “Today, we allow ourselves to be sad.” 

Keynote speaker Roselyn Macias followed Roldan. Macias runs Conexiones, a branch of the Diversity Center that focuses on Latinx and immigrant communities. 

“[This event] made me feel great. Talking for the other girls that are afraid to talk or the girls that are gone,” Macias said in an interview. “There’s women that survive almost death and girls that don’t make it. They come here for a better life but sometimes they find themselves on the same path.” 

Following Macias’ words, members of The Diversity Center and attendees read the list of names aloud. As the full weight of the names hung in the air, some bowed their heads or let a tear fall. A long moment of silence followed the reading, emphasizing its gravity. 

Macias is no stranger to near death situations. The reality of being a trans woman has given her experiences that mirror those of the individuals she works with. 

“I used to work for a lady who owned a bar in Chular and I would take care of the girls and a couple times, I could’ve been shot dead,” Macias said. “I don’t know how I convinced the person that was going to shoot me and just wanted to shoot me, not the other people. He would say, ‘I hate you, I hate your kind.’[…] I confronted that person and asked him, ‘Why?’”