The Association of Black Harvard Women hosted its fourth annual vigil commemorating Black transgender lives lost in the past year on Saturday.
The event — held in Holden Chapel in collaboration with the Queer Students Association, the Harvard Foundation, and the Office of BGLTQ Student Life — featured a series of guest and student speakers, as well as a performance by the Harvard Kuumba Singers. Portraits and biographies of the Black transgender individuals who lost their lives in the past year were placed throughout the chapel.
Tiffany C. Onyeiwu ’25, ABHW’s inclusivity chair and an organizer of Saturday’s event, gave the vigil’s opening remarks, stressing the importance of immediate action to protect transgender people.
“Black transgender folks, and in particular Black transgender women, face an epidemic of physical and verbal violence,” Onyeiwu said. “As Harvard students and community members from around the world, it is our duty to stop the cycle.”
Sadé Abraham, senior director at the Harvard Foundation for Intercultural and Race Relations, said in her address that violence against transgender people is deeply institutionalized.
“We live in a world where discrimination, harassment, and violence against Black trans, intersex, queer, and gender non-conforming LGBTQ people permeate virtually every institution and setting,” Abraham said.
The Queer Students Association’s co-presidents Alana L. Young ’24 and Atlas Sanogo ’24 said the advantage that Harvard students have is to disrupt a system of oppression through “having access to an elite educational institution.”
“Granted, [this institution] is one that very often does not support us, inflicts violence upon us, and erases us,” Young added. “Nevertheless, our education here is a ticket into the world that many of our trans siblings will never be able to access.”
In a keynote speech, Chastity Jamaria Bowick — executive director of the Transgender Emergency Fund, a nonprofit supporting low-income and unhoused trans people in Massachusetts — spoke about her goal of building solidarity for Black transgender people.
“I hope our allies will rise among us to fight for our rights — I hope our family members will stand with us,” Bowick said. “I hope the Black community will support and love Black transgender individuals.”
In an interview after the vigil, Onyeiwu spoke to the importance of intersectionality in her work.
“To nip all of the buds of injustice, we also have to nip transphobia and homophobia — racism is connected to that as much as it’s also connected to sexism,” Onyeiwu said. “Yes, this is a trans issue, but all of these injustices impact one another and compound on one another.”
Reverend Irene Monroe, a Harvard Divinity School graduate and queer Black pastor who spoke at the vigil, also emphasized the importance of intersectionality in understanding the discrimination and violence against transgender people.
“The importance of centering trans lives is that we’ve got to understand the intersections of all oppressions here — that trans misogyny is as pernicious as racism, as homophobia, as antisemitism,” Monroe said in an interview following the vigil.
Onyeiwu also encouraged those who do not identify as members of the transgender community to do “work year-round” to support transgender people.
“If you’re not part of the trans community, tie your laces, because you’re running this marathon to be an ally,” Onyeiwu said. “Show up for trans folks in whatever way you can.”
—Staff Writer Darley A. C. Boit can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
—Staff writer Ella L. Jones can be reached at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @ejones8100.