GLBT legacy lives on in Dunn Meadow with vigils, protests
Junior Evelyn Smith, a member of the National Organization of Gay and Lesbian Scientists and Technical Professionals at IU, expressed these thoughts in a closing speech following the Transgender Day of Remembrance vigil in Dunn Meadow on Nov. 17.
From a distance the nearly 40 participants standing in a circle and holding candles near a street lamp appeared to be one light in the middle of the meadow.
They passed a book around the circle, reading the names of the transgender people who were murdered between 2007 and 2010. Some members read five or more names, some read only a couple, some passed the book on without reading. But as the book made its way around the circle, not a word beside the names was said.
Helping or inhibiting?
From his office across Seventh Street, Doug Bauder, coordinator of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender Student Support Services, has witnessed solemn, celebratory and awareness-raising events from the GLBT community in the meadow.
“I’m a neighbor of the meadow, and we’ve used it regularly,” he said. “But 15 years isn’t a long time.”
A march to break the silence after the National Day of Silence in 2008, a “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” tour in April, a vigil honoring a recent wave of teen suicides because of harassment in October — all events sponsored by the GLBT community in Dunn Meadow.
Tombstones displaying 122 names of transgender people murdered for their gender expression stood in the meadow for two days during the 2009 Transgender Day of Remembrance display. As the date got closer, more names were added to the tombstones.
Taysia Elzy, a transgender person from Indianapolis, was among them.
“They killed all her animals,” Chris Kase, president of National Organization of Gay and Lesbian Scientists and Technical Professionals, said. “Decapitated the dogs and everything. What people don’t realize is they walk around and people assume, they hear trans person, and people assume they’re gay. It affects the whole community, not just trans people.”
But Kase wanted the display to be bigger than Dunn Meadow, and said the original plan was to line the path from the Sample Gates to the Indiana Memorial Union with the tombstones — a path she said more students walk on a daily basis and that goes past administration buildings.
“I didn’t feel like enough people got to see it,” she said. “I don’t think it got the exposure it could have gotten.”
But there were restrictions. To use the field, Kase said she had to fill out forms explaining the display and the group’s plan. She grew frustrated when she could not find out why the signs could not be put in other areas — even more so as the date got closer.
“I understand that the University is set up, they want it to look good,” she said. “They make a statement that we’re not allowed to put signs in other areas. They have big United Way signs in designated areas that aren’t supposed to have signs.”
However, Rick Stark, Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity Equality president, said he thinks Dunn Meadow is the best place students have for demonstrations.
“As someone from a group trying really hard to get our rights represented, having somewhere where students can go to show they’re unhappy with the University or other issues is so vital to discussion on campus,” Stark said. “It’s given us a place to provide openings, even if that place isn’t absolutely ideal.”
Candles aren’t enough
On Oct. 7, 1998, University of Wyoming student Matthew Shepard was pistol-whipped, burned, tied to a split-rail fence and left to die — just because he was homosexual. On Oct. 12, 1998 Shepard died in Poudre Valley Hospital in Fort Collins, Colo.
In Bloomington, nearly 200 students and supporters mourned. During a candlelight vigil in Dunn Meadow on Oct. 14, 1998 two days after Shepard’s death, Bauder said the air stopped moving.
“Very solemn would be the word for it,” Bauder said. “They were just glad to be together that night.”
The office was four years old the year of the murder and helped plan the largest vigil the GLBT community has had since the office’s creation.
A speaker led a responsive reading, and participants crossed Seventh Street to sign letters of condolence at the GLBT Student Support Services office. People in the line stood several deep, waiting to reach the porch. Others chalked messages on the sidewalks between the meadow and the office.
“Candles aren’t enough!”
“Hate is never hard to find.”
“I have the right to love, to live a life free from fear and I will fight for it!”
Former Dean of Students Richard McKaig and former IU President Myles Brand were among the supporters. They did not come to speak; they came in support.
“Obviously it was a time of very heightened awareness about violence against GLBT, and all kinds of places were looking for ways to express concern, solidarity, support,” McKaig said. “As much as anything, it was just simply a way to show local GLBT students and others to express their concern and kind affirm this was a welcoming and open community.”
As their candles died out, supporters left the meadow.
Though the meadow is set below street view, students walked past the group gathered for the Transgender Day of Remembrance vigil on the sidewalk that goes through the field.
As Smith gave her final speech, a girl walking along the path slowed near the group, turning her head to watch as she crept past. She reached the end of the circle and her eyes continued to look from face to face. She paused.