Vigil for transgender victims draws crowd mourning Colorado Springs shooting

Flowers on a piece of paper
A paper screen print representing a bouquet of lilies, roses, orchids, ginkgoes, marigolds, laurel and carnations at the Transgender Day of Remembrance in Minneapolis on Sunday.
Robyn Katona | MPR News

Over 60 people spilled out of the small community room at the Quatrefoil Library in south Minneapolis on Sunday, holding a vigil for Transgender Day of Remembrance.

The library has offered a safe, queer space for 35 years, said Morgan O’Sullivan, Quatrefoil Library volunteer coordinator and a vice president of its Board of Directors. In addition to their extensive LGBTQIA+ and banned books collection, the library is a home for community expression.

Speakers at the vigil shared poetry, song and experiences.

The vigil’s opening speaker, Ameera Khan, shared her personal story. 

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“It was a narrative oration of realizing I was queer, coming out in St. Louis, Missouri while I was highly connected to my Muslim-Bangladeshi immigrant community. I don’t want it to be a story about ‘Muslims are homophobic, or transphobic.’ It’s about any religious group, any group of people, can have these qualities and how you navigate coming out in that context,” Khan said.

Guest artist Kat Parent, who identifies as queer and non-binary, hosted a community art project with paper screen prints representing a bouquet of flowers.

“The screen print is outlines of different flowers that have been used a lot in the U.S at funerals, some that have queer symbolism and some that have both. I also put in laurels, which are an old symbol of victory, because I wanted to think about not just mourning the dead, but also honoring the resilience and history of trans ancestors,” Parent said.

OutFront Minnesota, which organized the vigil at Quatrefoil Library, reported that 411 transgender people died by homicide or suicide internationally between Oct. 1, 2021 to Oct. 28, 2022.

A table with lights and a list
For Transgender Day of Remembrance, OutFront Minnesota held vigil for 411 transgender lives lost around the world between Oct. 2021 and Oct. 2022 on Sunday.
Robyn Katona | MPR News

Matt Lewellyn-Otten is a religious organizer with OutFront Minnesota and gender-nonconforming. They coordinated the vigil to recognize transgender people whose names are forgotten after death, as well as those who are still here. “We wanted to celebrate trans joy. We wanted to celebrate trans lives,” they said.

Lewellyn-Otten expected only a handful of people would show up. Instead, they faced a packed room.

This year’s gathering held a special heaviness following an attack on another LGBTQ safe haven less than 24 hours before.

A 22-year-old man opened fire into an LGBTQ nightclub in Colorado Springs, Colo. late Saturday night, killing five and injuring at least 25 others. The shooting comes more than six years after the shooting at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Fla., one of the deadliest mass shootings in U.S. history.

“It’s something that has to stop. It keeps happening and happening,” said speaker and visual artist Mikha Dominguez on the shooting. “We have to keep the fight. We have to keep working together, staying in these spaces and doing this. Staying together and showing the love we have for each other is what is going to keep us going, always and always.”

During a 411-second-long moment of silence, each second representing a trans life lost, Liz Digitale Anderson led the crowd in a recitation of “Courage To Be Who We Are” by Ruth Huber. Huber wrote the song in honor of Gwen Amber Rose Araujo, a 17-year-old transgender teen murdered in California in 2002.

We are here in the memory of those who have fallen
Those who have fallen, Those who have fallen 
We are here in the memory of those who have fallen 
Here for the courage to be who we are, courage to be who we are.

For Morgan O’Sullivan, the evening felt “full circle.” She recalled a Transgender Day of Remembrance once held at the site where Quatrefoil Library now stands.

“20 years ago, we had maybe 10 people and look at the crowd we had today.”

Resources for LGBTQ Minnesotans