‘Everyone deserves to live as their true self’: Everything that happened at Exeter’s vigil for Brianna Ghey

‘Gatherings like this make me feel like I deserve to live’

On Saturday 18th February, crowds gathered outside Exeter Cathedral to mourn Brianna Ghey – a 16-year-old trans girl who lost her life earlier this week in Culcheth, Cheshire – and pay tribute to all trans victims of violence.

The vigil is the result of collective effort and organisation from Exeter University’s LGBTQ+ society, Queer and BAME Collective, LGBTQ+ Staff Network, and Trans and Non-Binary Cafe.

This comes after similar vigils and protests around the country following Brianna Ghey’s death, raising awareness of the realities of  trans rights in the UK.

Exeter’s vigil saw transgender, non-binary and queer speakers give heartfelt speeches about Brianna’s life and the experiences of transgender people in the UK for almost two hours. Organisers gave out candles and stickers to all attendees, inviting everyone to pay their respects, and write messages of love, support, and remembrance.

Over 20 people spoke, not just of the sadness which had gathered everyone there, but overwhelmingly of love, acceptance, and succour. Opening speakers stressed that no-one was alone, and the support of the trans community would always remain constant.

‘Her murder will not make us ashamed of who we are’

Later speakers touched on the treatment of trans rights, such as the government’s recent vote to block Scotland’s Gender Recognition Reform Bill. The speakers said that these however don’t stop trans people from existing – it just makes it harder for them to exist as their true selves. They added: “Children need to be children, not political footholds.”

Many of the speakers were unnamed and were not planning to speak, but felt empowered and compelled to do, addressing the large crowd.

One speaker said: “None of us are surprised and that’s the worst thing. These vigils, these protests will keep on happening – and will continue to be necessary until we are heard, until we are seen. There shouldn’t have to be a death to make us rally.”

Whilst addressing the tragedy that had united everyone, they reflected: “we are here not only to mourn, not just because we are angry, but because of love: people have gathered here to celebrate the life of a stranger, to remember her as the beautiful, inspiring girl that she was.”

Later the speech turned to stories and sentiments of trans joy – reflecting on the affirmation, the joy of acceptance, the beauty of the trans community and the overwhelming love and solidarity that they create.

‘People create a narrative that we [the trans community] are depressed, are alone, unimportant. But they will never know the feeling of trans joy: the love, acceptance, and support from strangers’

Addressing the allies who were attending the vigil, one speaker said: “Be active, use your anger to make change – that is the only way to make the world a better place, and make deaths like Brianna’s preventable.” Another spoke about how trans people – especially trans children – deserve to live freely: without being scared, without experiencing hate, harassment, inequality. Simply – they “deserve the mundane”.

‘One day, we will be seen – not as inhumane, as wrong, as a threat – but equal’

You can donate to Brianna Ghey’s GoFundMe page here.

If you or someone you know has been affected by this story, please speak to someone or contact Exeter University’s wellbeing, or Samaritans on 116 123 at any time or MindOut . You can also contact Anxiety UK on 03444 775 774, Calm (Campaign against living miserably) on 0800 58 58 58. 

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