Lawrence vigil honors lives lost to transphobia, anti-trans violence

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At a vigil Monday to commemorate Transgender Day of Remembrance, Rachel Reed described a solemn scene involving the aftermath of a transgender woman’s death.

Although fictional, the scene could have occurred anywhere.


After she was beaten and killed, the transgender woman’s attack continued, Reed explained.

At the morgue, a doctor insulted the deceased person’s transgender identity. The victim’s family had previously disowned the woman and wouldn’t cooperate with police, so investigators were forced to turn to her roommate for help in reconstructing the victim’s story.

“It’s not unusual,” Reed said as she read from the roommate’s point of view in the story. “We’ve become her family as we all are for each other. I don’t know what I will do without my sister.”

Molly Adams / Lawrence Times Rachel Reed speaks Nov. 20 during a vigil remembering transgender people lost to violence.

Reed told the crowd of more than 50 advocates and allies the story she wrote was common in the lives of transgender men and women in the U.S. She also shared statistics.

At least 41 transgender and gender nonconforming people were killed in 2022, according to the Human Rights Campaign, and 26 people have been murdered so far in 2023.

“I say at least because many are under-reported, misreported or simply lost in the shuffle,” Reed told the crowd.

Of those lost in 2023, 88% were people of color and 54% were Black transgender women. The victim knew their killer in 47% of the cases, according to the Human Rights Campaign.

Transgender Day of Remembrance (TDOR) is observed annually Nov. 20 as a way to honor the memory of those whose lives were lost in acts of anti-transgender violence, according to GLAAD’s website. The vigil was started in 1999 by Gwendolyn Ann Smith in remembrance of Rita Hester, a Black transgender woman killed in 1998 in Massachusetts.

The ceremony honors those who’ve died during the previous year with a reading of their names and is held at the conclusion of Transgender Awareness Week activities in communities across the world.

Reed shared the impact of the event in her own life.

“TDOR is important to me as a trans elder in the community because it allows me the opportunity to help others remember trans women and trans men taken by violence — some too soon and too young,” she said.


Monday’s event was held at Ecumenical Campus Ministries, 1204 Oread Ave. Additional sponsors were PFLAG Lawrence, Trans Lawrence Coalition, Lawrence PRIDE, Rainbow Kids and Families, Plymouth Congregational Church and Equality Kansas.

Solemn yet hopeful music was shared by Juanita De La Cruz Gonzalez on the harmonium and Sylvie Althoff, who sang and played the banjo. The names of those who have been killed across the U.S. and Puerto Rico since the last TDOR were shared by representatives from sponsoring organizations. A bell chimed after the reading of each name.

They included Yoko, a talented nonbinary artist and DJ.

“Please remember Yoko. Remember them as exceptional, joyful, extremely talented, loving and a gentle human,” Iridescent Riffel told the crowd.

Julie Black-Opilo read the name of Unique Banks.

“Let us remember Unique Banks, a 21-year-old Latina trans woman described by her brother as his best friend,” she said.

Molly Adams / Lawrence Times Julie Black-Opilio reads names during the Transgender Day of Remembrance vigil on Nov. 20, 2023.

“And let us remember any names unknown or unmentioned. You are not forgotten,” Black-Opilo said.

Reed, a veteran of the U.S. Army who served as an Army Ranger, told the crowd an unknown number of the transgender people who’ve lost their lives to violence were one day veterans like herself. Reed said, in some cases, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs has failed to recognize a transgender veteran’s service after their name or gender marker have been changed.

“We don’t know how many of these trans women and trans men were veterans,” Reed said. “Many of us don’t talk about that part of our lives. It’s something that we put behind us. We keep it inside.”

Molly Adams / Lawrence Times Dorothy Hoyt-Reed and Rachel Reed

Afterward, Reed shared information about two veteran groups in which she serves as an officer. Reed is Kansas Director of Transgender and Diverse Veterans of America and Kansas President of Transgender American Veterans Association. Reed invited transgender veterans seeking more information or support to contact her via email at

Isaac Johnson, of Trans Lawrence Coalition, shared an update on anti-trans legislation to watch for in 2024 and laws, including SB 180, that passed at the Kansas Statehouse in 2023. Other bills that were introduced included four that criminalized gender-affirming care for minors, two that criminalized drag performances and two that targeted transgender students.

Johnson also spoke about the court battle underway regarding the changing of gender markers in Kansas.

“The Kansas Attorney General Kris Kobach, moved forward to not only ban trans people from changing our gender markers on our official state documents, but to retroactively undo any changes we made,” Johnson said.

Molly Adams / Lawrence Times Isaac Johnson speaks at the gathering.

He encouraged the crowd “to think beyond anti-trans violence as purely individual instances of hate but rather the consequence of a system that doesn’t care about trans” people.

“Ending violence against trans people requires ending poverty, ending homelessness, securing access to health care, promoting the rights of workers, and so much more,” Johnson told the crowd. “Much of violence against trans people manifests itself not in homicide, but in sexual intimate partner violence, police brutality, self-harm and suicide, and other effects of government negligence.”

“We will not let our trans siblings be forgotten,” he said. “I encourage everyone to think ahead and remain aware and to organize against transphobia everywhere. Resistance is survival. The liberation of trans people is liberation of all people.”

TDOR concluded with a moment of silence and opportunities to speak individually with a member of an on-hand listening team that provided immediate support. Attendees could also participate in a sharing circle.

Molly Adams / Lawrence Times

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Molly Adams / Lawrence Times The Rev. Caroline Lawson Dean, of Plymouth Congregational Church, speaks during the vigil.
Molly Adams / Lawrence Times Attendees listen to Isaac Johnson speak on legislative happenings during the Transgender Day of Remembrance vigil on Nov. 20, 2023.
Molly Adams / Lawrence Times A bell chimes after each name is read on Transgender Day of Remembrance.
Molly Adams / Lawrence Times Rachel Reed speaks at the gathering.
Molly Adams / Lawrence Times Sylvie Althoff performs.
Molly Adams / Lawrence Times Juanita De La Cruz Gonzalez plays the harmonium.
Molly Adams / Lawrence Times Juanita De La Cruz Gonzalez
Molly Adams / Lawrence Times
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Tricia Masenthin (she/her), equity reporter, can be reached at tmasenthin (at) lawrencekstimes (dot) com. Read more of her work for the Times here. Check out her staff bio here.

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