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Empty chairs filled with meaning for Transgender Day of Remembrance

Jessica Fuller • Updated Nov 20, 2018 at 8:23 PM

Eighty-five empty chairs dotted Borchuck Plaza Tuesday evening. 

A piece of paper taped to the back of each chair bore a name, city, state, age, date of death and cause of death. 

“Christa Leigh Steele-Knudslien. North Adams, Massachusetts, 42 years old. Died 6-Jan-18. Stabbed and bludgeoned,” read one. 

Each chair represents one transgender person murdered in the past year. Members East Tennessee State University’s Sexuality and Gender Alliance placed candles in each chair one by one and lit them, recognizing the annual Transgender Day of Remembrance. 

The annual observance began after the 1998 murder of Rita Hester, a prolific member of the transgender community in Boston. She was stabbed to death in her apartment, and 20 years later, her attacker or attackers remain unknown.

“When you’re talking about disenfranchised people, you’re talking about voices that are often not heard,” SAGA president Emerson Todd said. “By having an event like this in such a central area of campus, you’re kind of making it so those voices have to be heard, and we’re able to give a voice to those who had their voices stolen.”

“A lot of (the deaths), they’re really awful and they’re really violent,” Raven Ragsdale, SAGA graduate adviser, said. “It’s really apparent the kind of things that trans people face who are still living.” 

The Human Rights Campaign reports that at least  29 transgender people died last year as a result of a hate crime. The 85 chairs in Borchuck Plaza represented the 85 transgender people killed in North America last year, and is a fraction of the more than 300 transgender lives lost to hate crimes worldwide

And, Todd notes, those are only reported deaths. He and other members of SAGA took turns reading the names of each of the 29 who were killed last year. 

“This is the reality of what happens to trans people every single day,” Todd said. “I think that it’s important to have this reality in a place where people can see it.” 

Email Jessica Fuller at [email protected]johnsoncitypress.com. Follow Jessica on Twitter @fullerjf91. Like her on Facebook at www.facebook.com/jfullerJCP.

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