Transgender youth Blake Brockington speaks at Charlotte's Transgender Day of Remembrance service in 2014. Photo Credit: Jack Stutts,

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — About 120 people gathered to commemorate a day of mourning for murdered transgender people on Thursday evening.

The special service featured religious speakers, youth and community members, each sharing their personal stories, fears and hopes while marking the International Transgender Day of Remembrance.

The international day is meant to lift up the memory of transgender people who have lost their lives to violence. Organizers said 14 transgender people in the U.S. had been victims of murder in the past year, with another 268 murdered worldwide.

“The sad thing is that most of these cases will remain unsolved,” speaker Paige Dula told the audience, gathered outside at Time Out Youth Center on N. Davidson St.

Dula also cited the local case of Toni Alston, who was shot and killed at her doorstep in Charlotte in 2010. That case remains unsolved.

“We deserve to be treated with respect and dignity,” Dula added.

Two pastors — New Life Metropolitan Community Church’s Dawn Flynn and Sacred Souls Community Church’s Debra Hopkins — spoke at the event, both transgender.

“We pray for our young people,” Hopkins said in an opening invocation, “that you would allow us to be shining lights of hope and promise … providing them with the necessary resources and not turning our backs.”

Youth were well-represented at the event, planned and implemented primarily by young clients served at Time Out Youth.

Eighteen-year-old transgender youth Blake Brockington — who made news after being crowned homecoming king at East Mecklenburg High School in February — said that Transgender Day of Remembrance was a special time to mourn and to keep building awareness.

“This is the one day of the year we come together to remember our trans siblings,” Brockington shared. “They were killed by monsters full of hatred and it keeps happening. These lists keep getting longer. It’s scary. … Today infuriates me. I’m angry I have to be aware my life is more dangerous because I’m transgender. I’m angry that we have to beg for justice.”

Brockington added: “Transgender children are being born everyday. We have to keep organizing for them.”

Justine Matlock, a 22-year-old transgender activist and student at the University of North Carolina-Charlotte, also spoke, sharing a call to action and empowerment.

“We are here. We have always been here,” she said. “We are not going away. We survive. We exist. We breath. We resist.”

The annual Transgender Day of Remembrance ceremony has been held annually in Charlotte for several years in a row. Past events have helped share the story of Alston and her family. This year’s event was the largest ever held in the city.

Matt Comer

Matt Comer previously served as editor from October 2007 through August 2015 and as a staff writer afterward in 2016.