by Steve Ahlquist of Uprise RI
An LGBTQ+ Remembrance Vigil was held in Prospect Park in Providence on Tuesday evening [July 13] in honor of those who have passed away within the LGBTQ+ community. The youth-led vigil brought together over 40 people to hear stories, encourage donations to support the queer community, and hold a moment of silence. “We’re here to basically honor the lives that have passed away this past year and also, beyond that,” said Michy, a member of the Providence Student Union, introducing the event and encouraging donations.
“We’ve all been struggling, at various times in our lives, with our identities – whether their sexual identities, gender identities, and so forth,” said Olivia, a community organizer with Tenant Network RI, a labor organizer and a communist. “There have been a lot of wins in the last decade for queer folks in this country, but our fight for liberation isn’t over. Our liberation doesn’t end with assimilation into straight heterosexual society.”
“I, like Harvey Milk, in his famous speech about hope, know what it’s like to look to no one to model the joy of a full life for representation of who I am, and no laws or justice to support me or my family,” said Amy Hogarth, a family therapist who does anti-racism, anti-oppression training at the Wayside Equity Training Center. “I remember the loneliness of being a youth and thinking there is not a road for me in the life that I wanted.... I stand here tonight with my whole self, with my family and a union that is protected by law. And I am in a state that has allowed me and my spouse to have adopted our children. And I know not all my queer family are able to have those dreams – not here in America and certainly not here in the world. And yet, the people who have gone before me, they are the people I look to.”
Mark, a “gender obliviator” and high school student, performed a spoken word poem.
Michy took the mic to recognize LGBTQ+ Disability month, with comments on wheelchair etiquette, and Non-Binary Awareness week. “Non-binary-ness tends to be a topic a lot of people don’t understand,” said Michy, who identifies as non-binary. “And when they do, they’re like, ‘Oh my God, I’m non-binary’ but it’s like 15 years later.” Michy urged people to learn about what non-binary means, and also, what non-binary means to you.
Emet, a queer, trans youth said, “When I asked the boy who threatened my life with a knife for an explanation of his actions, for a reason, so that I might think more clearly about the unthinkable possibility of my own death, there was no action for him to point at. Rather, simply the original sin of my identity. My identity, my queerness, was such an assault he felt he had to defend himself with lethal force.” Emet went on to speak about the codification of anti-queer assault into the American legal system as “gay or trans panic” defenses, still on the books in 35 states. (Rhode Island only outlawed gay-panic defenses in 2018.) Emet urged queer and trans people to learn self defense. “If you don’t defend yourself, no one else will.”
“I didn’t really understand that I was non-binary until this past year when I was 24,” said Jordan, who organizes with the DARE Behind the Walls Committee, and with the Party for Socialism and Liberation. “A lot of it was because I was so focused on being the man that my dad wanted me to be.”
“We’ve lost a lot of people,” said Justice Gaines, who helps run the program Queer Transformative Roots at Providence Youth Student Movement (PrYSM), which focuses on housing for queer and trans people (particularly youth) of color. “We’ve lost a lot of people to violence, whether that was at the hands of other community members or police. We lost a lot of people to the state. We’ve lost a lot of people to the conditions they’ve been forced to live in, whether that’s by the system or their own families…. And it’s really hard to continue to lose people, and to continue to have to be here and demand that it’s okay for us to exist.”
The vigil ended with Emet reading a list of trans people murdered in 2021, and a five-minute moment of silence for LGBTQ+ people who have been lost to violence.
Steve Ahlquist is a lead reporter for Uprise RI, a news organization covering issues of importance including social justice, human rights, politics, and climate change. Steve often attends LGBTQ+ demonstrations and contributes his reporting to Options, for which we are very grateful. Visit https://upriseri.com/lgbtq-remembrance-vigil/ for full videos of these speeches. You can donate to Uprise RI here.