By Aleksandra Sidorova
Transgender Day of Remembrance honors victims of transgender hate each Nov. 20. Last Saturday, the Adirondack North Country Gender Alliance (ANCGA) held a virtual vigil paying tribute to all 65 transgender Americans reported to have been murdered in the past year, the deadliest by far. To raise awareness of the issue on SUNY Plattsburgh campus, Lambda Theta Alpha Latin Sorority hosted an informative event at ACC Nov. 18.
Two sisters of Lambda Theta Alpha — Daniela Urena, a biomedical sciences senior, and Angelina Rodriguez, a human development and family relations junior — presented information about the hate that transgender women experience. They shed light on the societal pressure for transgender women to present themselves as extremely feminine and sexual, perpetuated by TV shows, such as Euphoria and RuPaul’s Drag Race.
They also shared the stories of four transgender women who were killed as a result of transphobia — Sonia Zafra in 1991, Nireah Johnson and Shelby Tracy Tom in 2003, Tyianna Alexander in 2021 — in violent ways, and sometimes in intimate settings. The presenters specifically highlighted that some murders of transgender people, such as that of Tom, were not classified as hate crimes, as the perpetrators would claim to not know of their victims’ trans identity.
“They made up something called ‘gay panic defense’ and ‘trans panic defense’ specifically for situations like this that make perpetrators get away with things like this,” Rodriguez said during the presentation.
The presenters also highlighted that many of the trans women that died were women of color, and that mass media do not cover many of these deaths.
“They were hate crimed because they were people of color, but it was also they were hate crimed because they were transgender women,” Rodriguez said.
According to Rodriguez and Urena, the goal of the event was to raise awareness to transgender hate, a topic that connects to their sorority chapter’s charity partner, the Trevor Project — an organization that aims to prevent suicides of LGBT+ youth. The focus on women comes from the fact that Lambda Theta Alpha is an organization centered around women, as well as the lack of transgender women in the media.
“We felt like it was important to kind of branch off and do an event about transgender women, just to make sure that we are raising awareness,” Rodriguez said.
Urena also stated that, for a campus as diverse as SUNY Plattsburgh, it was important to spread a message of acceptance and understanding.
“I don’t want people that go to this school to think that you can’t feel comfortable around transgender people,” Urena said.
The two organizers also wanted to teach students that there is no one way to be transgender.
“All these people that come from different places might have different views on what transgender people look like in their communities,” Rodriguez said. “A lot of the time, it’s not even like they’re uncomfortable, it’s just a misunderstanding — a lot of people are just not educated on different gender identities.”
Urena and Rodriguez hope the six attendees of the event share the message and knowledge that they gained at the event with their friends, so it can spread throughout the campus community. Urena noted that at the start of the event, every attendee had said they did not have much knowledge on the topic of transgender hate.
“It was definitely really sad hearing the stories,” sophomore political science major Renee Preston said after attending the event. “[The women’s] names aren’t getting out there, and their stories are being deleted.”