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Students Observe Transgender Day of Remembrance

A group of about 20 listened to a reading of the names of transgender individuals who were murdered in the past year, as they stood peacefully around the pond between the Olney and Orchard Meadow dormitories on the evening of Saturday, Nov. 20.

The reading was part of an event coordinated by seniors Sarah Rolfe and Marie Pence to commemorate the Transgender Day of Remembrance.

A screening of the movie "Boys Don't Cry" followed the reading in the Orchard Meadow recreation room. The film is based on the true story of a 19-year-old transgender man named Teena Brandon who was brutally murdered upon the discovery that he was biologically female. The film chronicled the last few months of his life and his eventual murder by his partner's two friends. Pence and Rolfe held a discussion about the film afterward.

According to, a transgender person is an individual who expresses "gender variant behavior" or who does not fully classify themselves according to their biological structure. The site defines gender as the "mental image of who you are," which may differ from the reproductive organs a person possesses.

The Transgender Day of Remembrance began in 1999 to honor the murder of Rita Hester, a man living as a woman in Boston, Mass. according to Pence said she decided to hold an event at Mills in honor of a friend who raised her awareness of transgender issues and "taught me the value of courage." Pence held her first vigil at Humboldt State University and wanted to bring a similar event to Mills with Rolfe's help.

Rolfe said that the event made her think about the ways that people can work to put a stop to hate-crime related violence.

"I was focusing on how we can be change agents and prevent hate crimes," Rolfe said.

Pence agreed, and said, "What [people have] suffered shouldn't happen again. We must try to remember not that these people died but that they were murdered."

People attended the event for different reasons, but many said they left having learned something new. Colleen Fulin, a freshwoman, said she decided to come because "it is important to bear witness to the fact that it [hate-crime] still happens."

Rolfe's brother Justin had never heard of the Transgender Day of Remembrance and decided to go to the event to learn more. He believes that there is a "definite lack of awareness" about transgender issues within many communities and asked, "What does an appropriate social dynamic look like that can [prevent hate-crimes]?"

Diane Tran, a member of the Institute of Civic Leadership at Mills, said that watching the film makes you "count your blessing and be happy with what you have" in a liberal-minded community like the Bay Area. She said she believes that personal acceptance of transgender individuals is "where the crucial change lies" in order to prevent anti-transgender violence.

"I like the idea that…we can create that space, that community," Tran said.

Both coordinators believe the event was a success.

"It was really well attended for the topic," Pence said. "The fact that people were here shows how really attentive people are to what's going on."

Pence said that she and Rolfe hope the event will generate dialogue and inspire people to be more accepting.

"At least you [can] dedicate yourself to being a safe space," Pence said. "Being active starts with you."