On 11 February, 16-year-old transgender girl Brianna Ghey was found with fatal stab wounds in Culcheth Linear Park in Warrington. Two 15-year-olds have appeared in Liverpool Crown Court, charged with her murder. Since the attack, the transgender community and its allies up and down the UK have joined together in acts of remembrance and grief.
Memorial gatherings were held across the country over the past week. Mourners draped in rainbow and trans flags laid flowers and lit candles in expressions of grief and anger. Queer radio stations including Gaydio, Hits Radio Pride, Pride Radio, Gorgeous Radio, Glitterbeam Radio, Trans Radio UK and Juice 1038 held a minute’s silence at 11am on Friday 17 February.
On the same day, a vigil was held by candlelight on Culcheth Village Green, near the site of the attack. The local choir sang ‘Somewhere Over the Rainbow’. The next day, a similar event in nearby Warrington was attended by hundreds of mourners. Charlotte Nichols, Labour MP for Warrington North, said:
Brianna Ghey’s murder has left our community reeling and I cannot begin to imagine the agony that her family, her friends and all her loved ones are feeling right now – no parent should ever have to bury a child.
She also stated that:
Trans lives matter and trans young people should have the fundamental rights to dignity and safety that should be universal human rights.
Grassroots organisation Manchester Trans Rise Up organised the city’s vigil on 15 February. It saw a touching turnout of over 2000 attendees. Group representative Dennis Queen said:
People have organised the vigil tonight to remember Brianna, to show solidarity with her family and also to give people a chance to come together and support each other.
And most of all, to show trans young people that they are not alone, and that lots of us support them. I think it’s hopeful to see that so many people are on side with us as trans people, and on side with this lovely young woman who has had her life cut short, but at the same time it’s frightening for everyone as well.
As if in evidence of this fact, a vigil in Birmingham’s gay village on 17 February was disrupted by shouted, hate-filled abuse – a stark reminder that we cannot even be allowed to mourn in peace.
These acts of collective mourning are not merely gestures. The transgender community in the UK is relatively small, but we are close-knit. Particularly for those of us outside big cities, online spaces often form essential hubs for us to meet other people like ourselves and feel less isolated.
VICE ran an interview with some of Brianna’s trans friends from the online community. 16-year-old Channah, from Cornwall, shared that:
We’re both trans women from small villages, so our support network is all internet-based, and people don’t understand how big that network is. We all know and support each other.
Jade, 19, from West Yorkshire, named Brianna a “fellow trans sister”. Trans people often name each other ‘sister’, or ‘brother’, or ‘sibling’. This small marker of solidarity recognizes our shared struggles and the families that we find in them. Jade also stated that:
I, and her community, will make sure she is remembered as the strong trans woman she was.
Several of the individuals interviewed also said that Brianna had helped them navigate their medical care. Tiana, 16, from Nottingham, mentioned that:
Brianna would constantly look out for the girls in the chat. She helped me find ways to access medical care for my transition safely. She would always make sure that we were in good hands.
Transgender healthcare is often complex, daunting, and scarcely available, particularly for young people. Moreover, it can also be actively hostile and traumatising.
A 16-year-old girl should not have had to help her friends access their medical treatment, but this is a sad fact of being trans in the UK. This is the job of our healthcare system and our government, but they are failing in it. Instead, we help one another – which means that the community feels its losses all the more keenly.
Brianna’s death comes against a backdrop of increasing violence against queer individuals across Europe and elsewhere. A report released on 20 February by ILGA-Europe (the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association) found that:
2022 was the most violent year for LGBTI people across the region [Europe and Central Asia] in the past decade, both through planned, ferocious attacks and through suicides in the wake of rising and widespread hate speech from politicians, religious leaders, right-wing organisations and media pundits.
The report also went on to highlight that “antipathy for LGBTI people has been driven and then exploited for political gain”. This cynical hate speech from politicians, campaigners, and the media has meant that:
attacks on LGBTI people with a conscious and deliberate will to kill and injure have increased to unprecedented levels, including two terror attacks outside LGBTI bars in Norway and Slovakia, which combined killed four people and maimed 22.
The last year has been a frightening time to be transgender, and LGBT+ more broadly. Our politicians and media seem intent on ensuring that this will remain the case in the coming years too. We should not have to suffer injury or die in increasing numbers before our lives are seen as worthwhile to protect.
Flowers for Brianna
I’d like to echo a sentiment I’ve seen in several trans spaces over the past fortnight. One of the more beautiful moments in a trans woman’s life is the first time she receives flowers. This is rare before transition, and it marks a moment of acceptance and recognition. Brianna’s death was three days before Valentine’s Day. She should have received her flowers in life. Instead, flowers were laid in vigils across the country in remembrance of her death.
Featured image via ARTUR WIDAK/NurPhoto via Agence France-Presse, resized to 770*403