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North Charleston vigil honors transgender lives lost and those who still 'need your love'

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A person holds a sign with names of transgender women of color who have been killed in South Carolina in recent years during a candlelight vigil for Transgender Day of Remembrance in North Charleston on Friday, November 20, 2020. Lauren Petracca/Staff

NORTH CHARLESTON — The mourners huddled once again in the dark, close to a nearby building. 

Like last year, they didn't use the newly created meeting space on Reynolds Avenue. But they didn't need to. People were together, sharing love in troubling times. Even at a distance.  

About 30 people gathered Friday night to honor the lives of transgender and gender non-conforming people cut short due to violence.  

In July 2019, it was the death of Denali Berries Stuckey, 29, that brought as many as 200 people together outside the walls of the building, which houses nonprofits that serve LGBTQ people. Stuckey, a transgender woman, was found shot to death nearby on Carner Avenue. She was the third Black transgender woman to be killed in South Carolina in a year.

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Angel Martinez (left) and Damian Judy hold candles together during a vigil for Transgender Day of Remembrance in North Charleston on Friday, November 20, 2020. Lauren Petracca/Staff

Violence has continued this year. 

At least 37 transgender and gender non-conforming people have been killed in the U.S. so far in 2020, according to Human Rights Campaign. It is the highest total since the organization began tracking the deaths in 2013. Black transgender women are often the targets of the fatal violence. 

None of the reported cases, so far this year, are from South Carolina. But the fear caused by the incidents nationwide was still felt at the vigil. 

"When those in power speak out against us through words and actions, it should not be a surprise when the violence directed our way increases in both number and ferocity," said Lee Anne Leland, a co-facilitator with Charleston Area Transgender Support, to the crowd gathered in person as well as online. 

Leland stood with her back to the unused but recently created gathering place in the building, which houses three organizations. 

We Are Family hosts peer discussion groups for LGTBQ youth there and operates a thrift store that helps fund the organization. Charleston Pride spearheads the annual parade and festival each fall in addition to several other community events throughout the year. The Alliance for Full Acceptance serves an an advocacy group working toward policies that protect LGBTQ residents.

The hope is that the communal space, known as an equality hub, will provide a place where people can meet and host programs and events, when it is safe to do so again. 

But at a time when many feel so isolated by the public health crises, even getting together outside the walls of the building on a somber night — albeit wearing masks and standing apart from one another — provided a bit of a solace for those in attendance.

Tears started to fall from Sunshine Goodman's face before she stepped to the microphone, in front of purple lights displayed on the white-painted wall behind her.

Goodman had another message on this Transgender Day of Remembrance she wanted to share, beyond honoring those who had died. Yes, people were gathered because of the lives lost, but the death brought people together, to support one another.

"I'm standing here to let you know that we don't have to be another name on the list," said Goodman, who is a Black transgender woman.

"There's us that are still here that need you," she said. "That need your support and need your love."

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Sunshine Goodman speaks during a candlelight vigil for Transgender Day of Remembrance in North Charleston on Friday, November 20, 2020. “We are the only community that has two days,” she said. “We have a day of mourning and a day of remembrance. Think about that.” Lauren Petracca/Staff

Later, another speaker read names of transgender and gender non-conforming people killed in 2020. 

After candles were lit then extinguished and a moment of silence started and ended, those who gathered lingered. 

A cover of a Michael Jackson song played in the background, causing some to briefly move their hips and tap their feet. 

"If you want to make the world a better place," it said, "take a look at yourself, and then make a change."

Reach Stephen Hobbs at 843-937-5428. Follow him on Twitter @bystephenhobbs.

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