WINCHESTER — AIDS Response Effort [ARE] is inviting the public to participate in a virtual service and vigil Friday evening to honor transgender people who lost their lives to violence.

The virtual ceremony will begin at 6 p.m. via Zoom. Individuals need to register. The link to participate in the meeting is: https://us02web.zoom.us/meeting/register/tZApdO2vrzsrGNclI09tK_8cVJbdNR--94W2.

The event coincides with the National Transgender Day of Remembrance (TDOR), which raises awareness about people killed as the result of transphobia. The annual day of remembrance was founded in 1999 to memorialize the murder of transgender woman Rita Hester in Allston, Massachusetts.

Friday’s service was initially supposed to take place at the ARE building at 124 W. Piccadilly St. But due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and Gov. Ralph Northam reducing the size of outdoor gatherings from 250 people to 25 people last week, organizers were forced to change the ceremony into a virtual event

“It was a hard decision to make but we think it’s best for our community and clients we serve,” said ARE Education and Outreach Coordinator Laura Arellano.

Participating organizations include ARE, Shenandoah Valley Metropolitan Community Church, The Hideaway Cafe and the We Matter Winchester LGBTQ support group.

The virtual service will include speeches and discussions on transgender visibility and a reading of names of transgender people who died this year due to violence.

The Human Rights Campaign reports that at least 34 transgender or gender non-conforming people in the United States and Puerto Rico have been killed this year — the highest number of deaths since the HRC began tracking data in 2013. The Rev. Mary Bohacek of Shenandoah Valley MCC said she thinks the increase in transgender killings in 2020 is likely because “there’s an increase in violence against anyone.”

“We’ve normalized this violence,” Bohacek said. “We’ve normalized hatred. We’ve made it socially acceptable to get in front of people loudly and publicly say hate is OK, which is all the more reason why we need to have events like TDOR to say it is not OK to normalize hate. It is not OK to normalize violence.”

ARE Executive Director Katie Vance said the event will be important for Winchester because “ there’s no space for folks to have open conversations about what it means to grow up in their area as LGBTQ.”

“I think there are these pockets of groups that are really working hard and trying to create a safe environment in this community,” Vance said. “But I’m surprised that we don’t have one central space for youth to go, for folks to have space to meet and talk about what that means and talk about rights in our communities.”

Bohacek said the event, in addition to creating awareness about violence against transgender people, is also designed to increase transgender visibility within the local LGBTQ community.

“So Transgender Day of Remembrance is not just remembering those we lost but recognizing and giving visibility to those in our community that need it,” Bohacek said.

For more information, visit aidsresponseeffort.org.

— Contact Josh Janney at jjanney@winchesterstar.com

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