Dark and silent, a moment of recognition at UCF's Reflecting Pond on Wednesday matched the life of Leelah Alcorn, a transgender teen who committed suicide after suffering discrimination from her parents.
Organized by sophomore Fausto Mateo, a sociology and political science major, the vigil brought together residents of the Orlando area who wished to remember 17-year-old Alcorn a month after her passing. Gathered by the water, more than 70 attendees held on to candles and listened as members of the LGBTQ+ community told their stories.
"During the vigil for Trans Day of Remembrance, the most constant thought in my mind as the list of people was read was that they deserved better," said transgender student Emily Kutik, a junior majoring in engineering. "And now, here, I ask myself, 'Why am I here standing in front of you when they're dead?' It could just as easily have been my name on the list."
The light from the candles casted a glow across the crowd, forming a patch of brightness in a dark situation, an unintentional parallel to the night's message: society must grow and be more supportive of the LGBTQ+ community.
"Leelah is not the only one we've lost," said Mathieu Carter-Ransome, a transgender sophomore majoring in film, while in front of the crowd.
"There are countless lives of transgender people that have been taken away from us by their own hand or someone else's, many of them too young to have grown to their full potential.
"My hope is that we give transgender people the chance to live their lives surrounded by love and support. In order to do that we need to spread understanding, expand media representation and be willing to wave our flag and make our words known."
Carter-Ransome's mother, Dawn Ransome, picked up the mic later that night, speaking of the process of accepting her son, mentioning that what truly mattered to her was his "essence."
"[The vigil] will honor the fact that this is a tragedy, but she [Leelah] wanted it [her suicide] to mean something," said Mateo in regard to what he hopes to achieve with the gathering. "I want things to change … It'll bring a lot of awareness to the transgender community."
Alcorn's suicide note, which was posted on her Tumblr before being taken down, detailed her depression after being taken out of school by her parents when they found out she had come out to her classmates.
"I was completely alone for 5 months," Alcorn wrote. "No friends, no support, no love. Just my parent's disappointment and the cruelty of loneliness."
The note ends with a plea for a change.
"My death needs to be counted in the number of transgender people who commit suicide this year," the note states. "Fix society. Please."
According to a study done by the National Center of Transgender Equality in October 2010, 41 percent of the transgender individuals surveyed had attempted suicide at least once, almost 40 percent more than the general public.
Kimberly Slichter is a Contributing Writer for the Central Florida Future. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.