New London's Transgender Day of Remembrance

New London — Standing on the steps of City Hall at the annual Transgender Day of Remembrance vigil on Tuesday, Polly Sioux said tonight is about "standing up as New London and saying hate has no place here." 

The event honors "those of us in the transgender community who have lost their life for just being themselves" and has taken place locally for the past several years, Sioux, who organized the event with outCT, told about 30 people who gathered in the cold on Tuesday.

But at a time when hate crimes in the United States rose 17 percent in 2017, this year "the hate came to New London," said Sioux, a transgender woman.

The first transgender person murdered in the United States this year played a significant role in New London, Sioux said. Christa Leigh Steele-Knudslien, the organizer of the Miss Trans New England Pageant, was killed at her home in North Adams, Mass., and her husband turned himself in and admitted to killing his wife, according to local news reports.

Steele-Knudslien came to New London several times to celebrate Jasmina Andino, the Miss Trans New England award winner for 2013-14. Andino wants to restart the pageant in Steele-Knudslien's honor, Sioux said.

Sioux called on people to not tolerate hate:

"We cannot allow hate to have a seedling, so that it can grow and so I hope that each one of you can join me in working together to prevent hatred, not just against trans people, but against people period," she said.

Transgender Day of Remembrance events were held internationally and nationally on Tuesday. In 2018, 22 transgender people were killed in this country, according to a report issued Monday by the Human Rights Campaign. 

Attendees at the New London vigil then marched to Parade Plaza where they gathered on the cold night to hold candles, as one-by-one speakers went to the microphone to read aloud the names and stories of transgender people who lost their lives in 2018 across the country, from Buffalo, N.Y. to Jacksonville, Florida, to Cleveland and Chicago and Stanley, New Mexico and Los Angeles.

Led by Sue Frankewicz, they then sang "We are a Gentle Angry People" by songwriter and activist Holly Near.

They then blew out their candles and observed a moment of silence. Afterwards, they hugged each other, some crying.

"I think it’s important to witness to people’s lives, especially in a time when there’s so much division, and I think we just have to stand up with each other," Frankewicz said after the vigil.

Lindsay Gillette, co-chair of outCT's youth group, said she came to the vigil to support transgender people and be there for both the "older generation and the younger generation coming up," as well as to try to make progressive changes.

Natalie Sims said it's important to honor the memories of those who lost their lives in the transgender community. 

"It’s important that we really respect them and honor their memories, because this is a horrible miscarriage of justice," she said. "These people should not be penalized simply for being who they are."

k.drelich@theday.com

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