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Winnipeg holds vigil for National Day of Silence

Event marks the deaths of US gay teen and local trans woman

NATIONAL DAY OF SILENCE. Winnipeg held a small vigil Apr 25 to reflect on the deaths of a gay US teen and a local transwoman. Credit: Kelsey Clifford

On an unseasonably cold night in Winnipeg, a small group gathered at the Manitoba legislature to commemorate a California teen who was murdered because of his sexuality and to remember a local trans woman who was killed in March.

With candles in hand, the group held a vigil for Lawrence King who was only 15 years old when he was gunned down by a fellow classmate. King, who had recently come out to his friends and family as gay, was harassed at his high school because of his sexuality. In the early morning of Feb 12, a 14-year-old student that King had given a valentine card two days before walked into a classroom and shot King twice in the back of the head.

“When I heard about Lawrence’s death I was shocked and I couldn’t just sit around and not do anything so I decided to organize an event,” says Joshua Huppe, co-organizer of the Apr 25 vigil in Winnipeg. “Homophobia is happening every day and people aren’t really paying attention to it… something has to happen in order for it to change.”

Thousands of people across North America attended vigils on Apr 25, the National Day of Silence, to remember Lawrence King and other queer youth that have been harassed because of their sexual orientation or gender identity.

The annual day of silence was started by the Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network in the United States. The event encourages students to take a vow of silence for the whole day or part of the day to bring awareness to the issue of homophobia. This year, GLSEN decided to honour King for its National Day of Silence.

Winnipeg appears to be the only city in Canada that publicly held a vigil on Apr 25 for Lawrence King. It was unlike other vigils held across the United States, however, in that it was not organized by high school or university students.

Kate Mcgonigal who had heard about the vigil through Facebook says she attended the event because she was “really moved by the tragedy of Lawrence King.” A transgender woman, Mcgonigal says she cannot believe that this type of violence is still happening, and that when she read about the murder she herself “felt as though [she] had been shot.”

The vigil in Winnipeg was particularly timely because it happened exactly a month after the death of a local transgender woman. Calvin Osborne, who went by the name Rose, was murdered in late March in an apartment suite on Broadway Ave. Rose was the sibling of Helen Betty Osborne, a young Aboriginal girl whose violent death in 1971 left a lasting scar on Manitobans. Although police have not come forward to say the killing was a hate crime, people in the community suspect that Rose’s gender identity may have played a role in her death.

Marching from the Legislative Building to the apartment block where the death occurred, the group stopped to give a moment of silence for Osborne. Grasping a large banner that read, “Lawrence King Day of Silence, Stop Homophobia,” the group received honks of approval from passing motorists. Participants tried as best they could to stop the icy gales of wind from blowing out candles they were holding in commemoration for the two victims.

“It is fitting isn’t it,” said Mcgonigal, “that these candles keep burning out.” From her perspective and from those present at the vigil, it was a sign that much work still needs to be done to end homophobic violence.