The November air was crisp and sharp, qualities which emboldened the contrast to the welcome inside. Unassuming doors opened to the broad expanse of the BE1110 event hall. At five minutes until 6 P.M., people were lining the walls of the annual Trans Day of Remembrance, hastily setting up elaborate displays. The entire room was bathed in a sea of whirling colour. A trans flag blanketed the back wall, lending a unifying touch to the décor.
Directly across from the entrance was a row of tables upon which sat several posters honouring the 331 trans and non-binary identifying individuals that had lost their lives to violence in 2019. Several lists of their names adorned the display. Moving closer, one could observe a small array of handmade paper boats, each holding a number of various slips of paper with one of the names and a thoughtful reflection made by one of the hundred or so attendees slowly traversing the room.
People conversed and exchanged hugs, occasionally breaking off to meet some of the event sponsors, who by now had completed their tables. Among those present were the Gender Justice League and Human Rights Campaign, both of whom featured an impressive array of swag and informational booklets.
What started as a Facebook event founded last year by Astro Pittman, president of Central’s Queer Co-op, had by this year turned into a sizeable crowd of people, some identifying as cis, some as trans, and some as queer or nonconforming. Members of the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence, a charitable organization that uses drag performance and religious theatre to highlight intolerance, could be seen in intricate makeup, socializing and walking about the hall. One such member, Ms. T, proved to be a very kind font of information for anyone curious about the Sisters’ or TDOR’s history.
At twenty minutes after the hall opened, people took their seats as Astro approached the lectern. Everyone, including the plainclothes security, listened with rapt attention as he spoke. Occasional bouts of laughter and applause punctured the somewhat somber atmosphere that would otherwise permeate the evening.
As Astro finished his presentation, he ended with the idea of alliance, an overarching theme of the evening. Specifically, that those who refrain from attending events such as TDOR may themselves have felt out-of-place if they did not identify as a member of the LGBTQ+ community, and that this was not only untrue, but harmful, in a way. Without regard to gender or sexual identity, all were welcome. It was a time for unification, not factions or division. Once again, applause rang out through the hall.
The evening continued with similar emotional highs and lows. Particularly moving was the next speaker, Natalie Star, whose story about her life as a trans woman in the 1980s fluctuated between heavy and humorous. She spoke at length, at one point recounting the loss of her best friend to HIV in an era where clinicians routinely discriminated against LGBTQ+ individuals. As the audience recovered and she closed out her portion of the presentation, she ended on a rather inspiring note of her life as it was presently. This idea was brought home to the best way, in her words, to be a trans activist: Spend your days living a normal life by working and doing what makes you happy. Having earned a degree in microbiology, she now uses it to coordinate HIV vaccine studies on the West Coast.
Several speakers took the stage that night, each one rousingly introduced by an enthusiastic and passionate Astro. Each showcased their personal (and in all cases emotional) experiences that they either had had in a much less tolerant time or were having now.
This included a student from Seattle Central as well, who gave an account of amazing support by a Veteran’s Association hospital on returning from the Army.
A powerful quote, “You are never too old, or too young. You are loved,” made the whole room applaud once more.
As Astro prepared to close out the evening, the crowd took tea candles and stepped out into the relatively calm night to hold vigil for those lost to violence across the U.S.. 31 names and photos changed hands between everyone gathered there as Astro and Morgan, the event coordinator addressed everyone. A KOMO newsman filmed the solemn exchange. Once all of the photos had been dispersed, a thank you took place between the hosts and audience, the night brought to a close as all present sank into a final, quiet introspection.
The boats with the names and words for the departed would become vessels for a Viking funeral on the Puget Sound, their destiny to sink beneath and never resurface. However, the spirit of those who attended remained steadfast. Not even a small protest outside the school could quell the fervor and solidarity uniform throughout the night. It was tempting to think that one day, hopefully soon, there would be no paper boats.