I did not know Gaurav Gopalan personally. But after attending his vigil on Sunday night, I wish I had. An aerospace engineer by training, a lover of Shakespeare, Gaurav was well known to the DC theater community and lived his life to the fullest. He was described, by every person who knew him, as a generous, funny, passionate and a loving individual. There was a large gathering of people at the Dupont Circle (Washington DC) on Sunday, September 26, 2011. Scores of people of all races and ages attended the memorial and held a candle in his memory. An hour long, fitting tribute to Gaurav was held where many friends in his theater community read lines from Shakespeare plays including Romeo and Juliet (his favorite!) and a few even read sonnets that they wrote.
Gaurav attended one of the most prestigious universities in India (The Indian Institute of Technology) and came to the United States to further his studies, pursue a career in aeronautical engineering and explore his passion for directing plays. Gaurav’s friends remember him as an individual who never stopped exploring, and every day he tried to get more comfortable with his identity as a transgender woman. One of his friends, Joe, shared about how he attended the opening night of a play Happy Days, completely dressed as ‘gigi.’ The tribute continued as friends shared their memories about him, how he made them laugh, how he made them think and how smart an individual he was to promptly give a three hour lecture connecting astrophysics, Hinduism and Shakespeare!
The night continued as we all walked to the place where he was last found (on 11th St NW between Euclid and Fairmont Street). There his friends continued to remember him including a woman, who didn’t know him personally, but sang a song which included lyrics in Irish and Sanskrit. Politicians and LGBT community activists were also present to lend support. DC Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton sent a letter of condolences and support to the community. Councilmember Jim Graham of Ward 1, where Gaurav lived with his partner, expressed his condolences and made a promise to be focused on the investigation into Gaurav’s death until it is completed. Transgender advocate Eileen Bud also paid a tribute to Gaurav and the need for the Transgender community to be more vigilant and raise awareness about the rise in the number of hate crimes against LGBT individuals especially those who identify as Transgender
I had a chance to connect with a few people including Ninad who had known Gaurav for 8 years and had even met Gaurav’s parents. When heard about the tragedy, Ninad said he was in, ‘disbelief.’ A husband and wife came with their toddler. They didn’t know Gaurav personally but the wife, Deepa said, ‘it’s a terrible tragedy for any community, especially LGBT communities of color. We are here as allies and allies should come out in support.’ Deepa was also there in support of Khush, a DC-based LGBT support group for South Asians. Strangers and friends came to remember him from all over metro Washington.
Another couple Mala and Vega came from Maryland and said, ‘We didn’t know him personally, we are here in solidarity.’ Some even expressed the need for community awareness and education of LGBT issues. Sapna, who came along with her wife, said ‘When I first heard about his death, some within the community were denying that he was Transgender. I think transphobia persists even within the desi LGBT community and we have to educate our own community and our allies about these issues.’ Some were more pragmatic with what they had to say. David, another attendee shared, ‘I would like to think DC is a place where people and come and be who they are, but it is especially hard for transgender folks. I would like to think that there will be justice but currently there are 7 unsolved transgender murders in DC.’
But all of them were present to mourn Gaurav’s tragic demise, celebrate his life and be inspired by his generosity. I went there to light a candle in his memory and pray for his friends and family. But I learned so much about Gaurav. I learned how Gaurav came to this country, found a lover and found himself. I learned how he never stopped learning. I did not know Gaurav Gopalan personally. What I do know and what we can all learn from this tragedy is how we can all continue to explore, continue to learn and continue to positively engage with the individuals in our lives.
PS: Please check out the Facebook page ‘Remembering Gaurav Gopalan’ where his friends and colleagues continue to share memories that they shared with him and post any updates they may have on the ongoing investigation.
– Anita Balan