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Tampa Bay honors Transgender Day of Remembrance: “How do we find the hope in this?”

At evening vigils in Tampa and St. Petersburg, advocates named those killed due to prejudice, including two victims in Tampa Bay.
Supporters gather in front of St. Petersburg's City Hall for Transgender Day of Remembrance on Saturday, Nov. 20.
Supporters gather in front of St. Petersburg's City Hall for Transgender Day of Remembrance on Saturday, Nov. 20. [ Michaela Mulligan ]
Published Nov. 20
Updated Nov. 21

ST. PETERSBURG — Felix Nickel, 15, stood on the steps of St. Petersburg City Hall in front of a podium draped with the blue, pink and white transgender pride flag. He faced a crowd of around 100 people, all holding candles. Some held back tears as Nickel spoke, some let out short bursts of friendly laughter and some held their partners tighter.

Nickel paused, gathering his thoughts. “You got this,” a voice yelled from the crowd. “You’re doing great,” another said.

“How do we find the hope in this?” Felix asked the crowd.

Tampa Bay marked Transgender Day of Remembrance on Saturday with marches and vigils, honoring those murdered due to anti-transgender prejudice — a troubling tally that in 2021 includes two women from Tampa Bay.

An evening march and vigil were held in St. Petersburg, beginning at The Sunshine Center downtown. The vigil was organized by Lucas Wehle, previously the director of trans services at what is now Metro Inclusive Health.

Wehle asked Felix to speak at the vigil to offer his perspective as a transgender youth. He was the youngest speaker of the night.

“How do we show this community, who is facing so much, who has to wonder so frequently, ‘Could someone I know know die? Could it be me? Could it be a friend? Could it be a family member?’, how to look forward, as well as look back at the people we’ve lost?” Nickel said.

Across the bay, PFLAG Tampa held a vigil outside a courthouse downtown.

As of Saturday, at least 47 transgender or gender non-conforming people had been fatally shot or killed by other violent means in 2021, the Human Rights Campaign said.

Sam(ira) Obeid, 37, a poet and activist who stylizes her name with parentheses, said at the St. Petersburg vigil that she wants to celebrate transgender people and remember transgender people. But she also wants to avenge them, she said.

“I want to come to the plate with a spirit of vengeance and I want to avenge our transgender humans by making so many safe spaces for transgender humans that the bigots in the world have no idea what to do about it,” she said.

She hopes those bigots will never be able to take those spaces down, she said.

A group of attendees listen to a speaker during the #ProtectTransKids rally outside Orlando City Hall on June 1.
A group of attendees listen to a speaker during the #ProtectTransKids rally outside Orlando City Hall on June 1. [ Orlando Sentinel/TNS ]

Five of the speakers took turns naming the 47 known victims.

Some were killed here in Tampa Bay.

Earlier this month, Jenny De Leon was found dead in Tampa. In May, Keri Washington was killed in Clearwater.

De Leon’s body was found on the morning of Nov. 2, a block off of N Nebraska Avenue, in the Sulphur Springs area. Her killer remains at large. Tampa Police are asking those who know anything about her death to call Crime Stoppers of Tampa Bay at 1-800-873-8477.

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De Leon was 25.

De Leon’s sister, Iriss De Leon, created a fundraiser on Facebook toward her sister’s funeral.

Her loved ones gathered for a candlelight vigil a week ago at Vinoy Park in St. Petersburg. People were asked to wear red, Jenny’s favorite color. Iriss De Leon told FOX 13 Tampa Bay that night, “Jenny was always very happy, she was always doing crazy things, always filling up people’s lives ... She was just crazy and full of life.”

“This is a national epidemic and we can’t ignore the fact that this violence is happening,” Molly Robison, the board secretary for St. Pete Pride, told FOX 13 at vigil for Jenny De Leon. “As the parent of a transgender child, any time I see this kind of violence in the trans community it breaks my heart and it scares me, and it makes me angry.”

Washington was 49, according to the Human Rights Campaign. The Advocate, a source for LGBTQ news, quoted friends of Washington’s who offered social media tributes. “Rest easy Keri Washington aka Bobo we love U,” one wrote, referencing her nickname. Another said, “Bobo was the real deal slay queen.”

Washington’s domestic partner confessed to killing Washington during a domestic dispute, authorities said. A relative told police at the time that their arguments had become become frequent.

Washington’s partner is facing a first-degree murder charge. His next pre-trial hearing is set for January 10.

Transgender Day of Remembrance began in 1999, according to GLAAD. It was created by transgender advocate Gwendolyn Ann Smith as a vigil to honor the memory of Rita Hester, a transgender woman who was killed in 1998.

Outgoing St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman also took to the steps of City Hall on Saturday.

“2021 is on track to be the deadliest year yet for this community,” Kriseman said. “Jenny De Leon is the 46th victim this year. We shouldn’t stand for it. We won’t stand for it.”

We need to fight the hate, Kriseman said. He vowed to continue the fight until the end of his term.