"I hope this message finds you well. I'm reaching out because I vaguely knew Vivien, or I guess more accurately knew of her. I saw your flyer on Facebook recently and someone suggested I reach out. This is the first I heard of her suicide, and it broke my heart so much.
When I went to UMBC I was in the library a whole whole lot, and I frequently interacted with library staff even if it was just checking out books or in passing, to the point of being familiar with everyone there. I definitely remember seeing Viv often including when she probably started taking hormones and just noticing that happen. She was probably the first person I'd actually seen do that, I didn't know how hormones worked at the time. But I come out as trans slowly shortly afterward, and eventually started hormones as well. To this day she definitely comes to my mind as someone who has an impact on me in that way.
Aside from that, just as a library staff member I definitely appreciated her and other coworkers. I went through several different rough periods without stable housing and I sheltered mostly in the library, and no staff members seemed to have a problem with me at all, which I hugely appreciate in hindsight." - contributor asked to have their name omitted for safety.
My journey with activism is roughly congruent with my coming out as trans in college at UMBC. I started going by the name I use now on orientation day, knowing college was a much safer place to be myself than the town I grew up in. Between my graduating high school & my first year attending UMBC, the Baltimore uprising & trumps election happened --both events galvanized activism in the city. Taking busses from campus between classes is how I remember those early years of 2016 & 2017, with one foot in the door of campus queer organizations & the other in Baltimore city-based organizing.
Today I work at Freestate Justice, advancing the rights of queer & trans community through changes in state policy. Changes like the addition of a gender X option to Maryland state IDs, the repeal of the panic defense, & most recently prison reform measures that would allow for the safety of incarcearted queer & trans women
I did. I would alwyas see her behind the counter at the library & I respected her intellect so much. As a baby trans, I often came to her with complex questions I couldnt get answered by my cis professors. She would always have the answer, & a great source to back it up and learn more.
I worked with her briefly when a known TERF was invited by the GWST college to speak. A group of trans students including myself & Viv protested that event & received a lot of hate for it. A known & infamous local TERF was also in the audience that evening. It was hard on us all but particularly on Viv, who was disgusted by her ability to talk over the group of people she claimed to represent.
That was the last time I remember seeing her. In a decompression gathering after the event hosted in the women's center.
Her death affected me massively, it hung like a dark cloud over campus & particularly in the library. Learning that her suicide was liked to UMBC management, a completely avoidable problem, destroyed my faith in the institution. Fundamentally, her mistreatment was due to a lack of respect for her, the resource she was to queer community & individuals at UMBC was a tremendous loss.
I remember trying to seek justice for her in the ways I knew how --talking to administrators in the mosaic center & women's center who both admitted their powerlessness --even Dr.Hbrowski in a direct conversation dismissed me. Seeing the world move on without her, the only trans woman faculty I knew, broke my heart & led me to leave the university that year.
I commend the movement for justice for reinvigorating the work I could not do myself. For a long time, I felt like I failed her. But it's not too late. Viv does need to be avenged & her death addressed by the institution in order to address the latent transphobia.
I want some sort of permanent acknowledgment of Viv to be incorporated into UMBC. There was a brief conversation about renaming the queer student lounge after her & I think that would be a fitting & beautiful tribute to her.
I want the persons responsible fired for discrimination.
She was extremely smart, sharp & strong. As a trans woman who was out for decades, she endured experiences that I only read about. Through all of that, she never turned that sharpness on the queer babies constantly cycling through the process of self-discovery inherent in college. She was a resource that UMBC should have valued as much as she was loved by the queer students there.
Masters tools will never dismantle the master's house
See also this article by UMBC Retriever reporter Simone Loysen, which includes interviews with people who worked with Vivien, knew her from around school, and/or have been affected by her and by losing her.