Five Utahns among those memorialized on Transgender Day of Remembrance

Nov 21, 2023, 8:04 AM

SALT LAKE CITY — A program at the Salt Lake City Public Library and vigil at Washington Square Monday evening paid tribute to a marginalized group of people and individuals targeted and killed because of who they were.

Nov. 20 is Transgender Day of Remembrance, and this year, the people being memorialized include five Utahns.

On the west side of Washington Square, a display with 384 flags blew in the breeze Monday evening. People stopped by to walk through the lines of flags, reading placards that hang from each flag.

The placards included names of people from around the world, pictures of them, and each person’s story.

“Each of those flags represents the life of a human being snuffed out far, far too early, simply because they were transgender. They were different,” said Jeri Brummett, a transgender woman and community activist.

One story, Brummett said, was of a 17-year-old trans girl who was gunned down in front of friends and classmates in Virginia, after being asked if she was transgender.

It’s stories like that, that make the day so heavy and emotional in the transgender community.

“It is heartbreaking. And it’s very, very personal,” Brummett said. “We shouldn’t lose people like this in our community.”

A number of the people represented in the display died by suicide.

“The suicide rates, particularly among the young people, is very, very high,” Brummett explained. “These kids are bullied. They receive a tremendous amount of hate and threats in the community, as do all trans people and most LGBTQ people.”

Monday’s program at the library downtown included speakers like Alex del Rosario from the National Center for Transgender Equality.

“It’s really important that we have a space like this to mourn and grieve and celebrate the lives that we’ve lost,” del Rosario said to the auditorium full of people. They talked about the history of Transgender Day of Remembrance, which was first observed in 1999 after the murders of two Black transgender women, Rita Hester and Chanelle Pickett.

“(Transgender Day of Remembrance) was created to ensure that the lives of trans people lost by transphobia and trans hate would be honored, recognized and remembered,” del Rosario said.

They said it’s also a time for individuals and communities to reflect and specifically identify the root causes of this violence, and “to recommit to taking action against dismantling and destroying hate caused by power, systems and people.”

After hearing from speakers, the crowd took a moment of silence and then every one of the 384 names was read aloud.

Brummett read off the first names, which started with the five transgender Utahns who died in the past year.

Sixteen-year-old Ome Gandhi, according to her placard at the flag display, was shot and killed by her father before her father died of suicide. Tyler Svetich, 22, was found dead in the Jordan River. Eighteen-year-old Tree Crane, of South Jordan, died by suicide, according to his flag’s placard. The fourth person, a 61-year-old trans woman, is being remembered anonymously because according to the place card, she was not out to her profession.

The fifth person, 25-year-old Fisher Jones, also died by suicide. They worked at the Salt Lake City Public Library where the event was held, Brummett said, and the library dedicated a bench in Fisher’s honor.

“We don’t need hate, we don’t need violence, and we don’t need mean-spiritedness,” Brummett said.

After all the names were read, the group walked over to the flag display for a vigil. A bagpiper played in honor of a trans woman in Utah who was murdered in the 1980s.

Brummett said the trans community doesn’t ask for anything more than respect and decency.

“We would like people to get to know us in the same way that people have been willing in Utah to get to know people of color and people of different ethnic backgrounds,” she said. “We’re different, but in all the ways that matter, trans people are the same as any other Utahn.”

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Five Utahns among those memorialized on Transgender Day of Remembrance