UI Trans Alliance features trans and non-binary artwork for Trans Day of Remembrance Memorial

The University of Iowa’s Trans Alliance, in partnership with Public Space One, put together an artwork showcase to honor Transgender Day of Remembrance that will be displayed through Nov. 20.


Megan Conroy

A transgender flag is displayed on November 18 at Public Space One in honor of Trans Day of Remembrance.

Megan Conroy, Arts Reporter

Around 400 pink, blue, and white flags decorate the front lawn of Public Space One this week.

Candles are scattered through the grass, leading up the steps to Public Space One on Gilbert Street. The display, which has been up since Monday, also features art created by non-binary and transgender artists.

The memorial was created by members of the University of Iowa Trans Alliance for Transgender Day of Remembrance, a day following Transgender Week of Awareness.  The day honors and memorializes all who have died in the past year due to violence against transgender and gender non-conforming people.

Sage Anderson, a UI student who contributed artwork to the memorial, said Trans Day of Remembrance is very personal to him as a person who knew they were trans since middle school, who grew up watching people like him be killed around the world.

In 2020, at least 38 transgender or gender non-conforming people died due to violence, the majority of which were Black and Latinx transgender women, according to a Human Rights Campaign article.

Anderson’s pieces include a khaligraph (a printmaking piece), and a drawing. The khaligraph is a flag made with 331 notches in the back to visualize the amount of violence and death effecting transgender people. The drawing, Anderson said, is more lighthearted, and is a half-bust figure of someone post -surgery.

Anderson added that his art stems from a place of a gender identity perspective.

“Trans people exist, and we’re human,” he said. “We’re more than just being trans, although it is difficult to separate yourself from something that is usually quite visible. Art has played a major force in my life and coming to terms with my own identity.”

UI student and Trans Alliance Vice President Quentin Kinzy organized the memorial in honor of Transgender Day of Remembrance at Public Space One. Last year, the group had a gathering in which the names of the lost were read.

Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, a similar event can’t happen this year, but Kinzy said he wanted to organize something safe to honor the day. The memorial consists of art submitted by members of the Trans Alliance, as well as photos of people in the U.S. who have died due to violence. The group also held an open call for submissions from trans and non-binary artists.

RELATED: UI Trans Alliance focuses on activism and education in Trans Week of Action

Director of Public Space One John Engelbrecht said that the organization tries to be as responsive as possible to the community and those who need a platform for events such as this.

“We have several people who have been involved for a long time at PS1 who are our good friends and identify as trans — it’s an important issue for us,” Engelbrecht said.

The memorial was set up with the help of Public Space One’s “garden guru” Kymbyrly Koesters, Engelbrecht said. The set up included installing flags, banners, and preparing the slideshows that will be displayed in the porch window as well as the special memorial slideshow of those who have died.

Kinzy explained that the idea of having the event outside, spanned over the week, made the option safer for people as they come and go. The idea for the art showcase stemmed from more than Transgender Day of Remembrance for him.

“Along with the disproportionate police violence towards Black and Brown people, and even more so against those people of color who are transgender and non-binary, the trans panic defense normalizes the idea of ‘othering’ trans people,” Kinzy said.

According to the LGBTQ+ Bar, what was formerly known as the trans/gay panic defense, is now the LGBTQ+ defense strategy. The legal strategy says that the identity of the victim’s identity excuses the violent crime. The defense being legal, therefore, minimizes the lives of LGBTQ+ people.

“Iowa has a bill heading to the Senate from the House that can fix this and outlaw the gay and trans panic defense. I want to bring awareness to the fact that this is also happening in our backyard,” Kinzy said. “It’s something we definitely wanted to continue bringing attention to even in these weird times.”

In addition to the importance of art in his life, Anderson said he finds art important to the queer community in general.

“Having actual queer artists bring their art to the table allows people to see the bigger world of queerness like trans people of color and disabled trans folks, and how these issues overlap with each other. It definitely is an important visibility thing in a display like this,” Anderson said.