PITTSFIELD, Mass. — A candlelight vigil to honor her life and legacy of Jahaira DeAlto is being held Saturday at 5 p.m. at Pontoosuc Park.
The former Pittsfield resident and transgender activist was murdered Sunday in Boston. The vigil is being organized by Berkshire Pride, her former workplace the Elizabeth Freeman Center, and Christopher Liljeholm, who has been involved in Berkshire Pride events.
"Jahaira was a one of a kind, and just so special," said Helen Moon, the center's development and communications coordinator and Ward 1 councilor. "The Berkshire community and the LGBTQ-plus community, we're not the only ones that have a significant loss, I really believe that just the community at large, we are all at a loss for having lost Jahaira."
DeAlto, 42, and Fatima Yasin, 27, were reportedly stabbed to death in DeAlto's Dorchester home. Yasin's husband, Marcus Chavis, 34, was arrested in the murders.
"Ballroom legend from the House of Balenciaga, Jahaira was a loyal friend, a fierce advocate, and a mother/grandmother/auntie to many. Her unconditional love was felt by all who met her and her kind and funny spirit left its mark on the Berkshires — from the classrooms at Berkshire Community College to the offices of Elizabeth Freeman Center, from helping launch the first Transgender Day of Remembrance and Berkshire Pride Festival to 'being all the things' as she liked to say," the Freeman Center and Berkshire Pride wrote in a joint press release.
DeAlto was a counselor for domestic violence and sexual assault victims at the Freeman Center and was most recently was a Safelink coordinator for Casa Myrna in Boston's South End. She was also a board member of Berkshire Pride and the Freeman Center's LGBTQIA+ Access Project.
She graduated from Berkshire Community College in 2019 and was studying social work at Simmons University.
A transgender rights and social justice activist, DeAlto was passionate about ending violence and was known to be a moving and eloquent public speaker. Moon said she lived her daily life as her authentic self and in turn, exposed and attempted to normalized the trans experience to show that "it's not somebody else, it's not 'the other,' it's not a different group, but it's somebody you know."
"If you ever had the opportunity to listen to Jahaira speak, she was somebody that was an amazing orator and teacher and saw a vision for the future that was safe, and she really lived her life that way," Moon said.
Statistically, more than 50 percent of transgender individuals have experienced sexual or domestic violence, Moon said, compared to the general population.
Transgender people statistically have a shorter life expectancy, she said, as many never get to celebrate their 40th birthday.
"The impact of violence on the trans community is is disproportionate, it's a public health crisis," Moon asserted.
DeAlto had noted she was several years past her life expectancy in 2018 during a vigil for another transgender woman murdered in a domestic violence incident, Christa Leigh Steele-Knudslien of North Adams.
"Those kind of numbers and statistics are just so scary, and I know that many members of the trans community not only grieve the loss of people that they know, but also live in fear of becoming a statistic themselves," Moon said. "We don't want the trans community -- we don't want anybody -- to become a statistic, we want people to live their authentic lives and be able to thrive because that's what the American dream is."
Attendees of the vigil are asked to wear masks and abide by social distancing protocols.
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