A Tragic, Untimely, Senseless Death

by AWARE Staff and Board

HARDWICK – “Plant two flowers with one seed.” – Fern Feather

Many people in the greater Hardwick area knew and loved Fern Feather, the trans woman recently murdered in Morristown. She grew up in Vermont, but like her chosen namesake, a feather, was blown by the winds of life on various adventures, always making new friends wherever life took her. She was a vibrant, loving human who had an immense fondness for family, friends, animals, and plants, an open and accepting heart and a hefty amount of flair. Her hugs, her smile, her sparkling eyes, her generosity, her ability to connect and uplift, her brilliance – so many things about this beautiful human will be missed.

Her tragic, untimely, and senseless death has had a wide-reaching ripple effect. A life brought short because of violence is particularly difficult to make sense of. A life brought short in relationship to their choice of authenticity over societal expectations leaves many people feeling unsafe to be their authentic selves, which some might argue is an even greater tragedy. Regardless of the body a human is born into, regardless of the experiences, desires and needs of that body, each human deserves love and acceptance. How do we encourage people who see others through eyes of anger and fear to learn beyond that disconnection? To learn how to allow space, respect, and love for our differences? To celebrate those differences! To marvel in joy and appreciation at the limitless possibilities of human expression and love among empowered, consenting adults.

In some ways, Vermont is leading the nation in providing resources to the LGBTQ+ community. There are more resources available here than in other states. There are laws protecting the 5% of our Vermont community that identifies as LGBTQ+ from discrimination in the workplace, housing, healthcare and more. These laws help keep approximately 32,000 Vermonters safer than they might be otherwise, and certainly safer than they might be elsewhere. At the same time, these same family members, friends, and neighbors are also much more likely to face discrimination and violence in other ways. Gender-based violence affects roughly 40% of Vermont’s women, and 30% of Vermont’s men. For members of the LGBTQ+ community, living true to themselves involves a much greater risk – roughly four times greater. Clearly, there is room for improvement here.

While things like mental health, anger management, addiction and other issues may be factors in such violence, the strongest and most common cause -and the one that we as a community have the most influence over- are societal beliefs that some people are more valuable than others. May we all work together towards a community that values all its members, because that will be the community that most ensures safety and well-being for everyone. When each light is free to shine fully in all its brilliance.

In times like this, it becomes poignantly clear how important it is that we gather to offer support for those who are courageously facing the world as their authentic selves and to those who are seeking words and space to express their authentic selves, to hold space for the messy but valid emotions that surface when we lose someone we love, and when our safety or the safety of loved ones feels uncertain. If you or a loved one is in need of support, know that there are options available to you -you are not alone.

AWARE serves the towns of Cabot, Craftsbury, Greensboro, Hardwick, Stannard, Walden, and Woodbury. While we are dedicated to resolving the causes and effects of domestic violence and sexual assault in the greater Hardwick area, we can assist with violence in a broad spectrum; our goal is always to reduce or eliminate violence and to improve people’s feelings of safety. We strive to offer support and resources to those who need it, so that all people are empowered to act towards themselves and others with awareness, empathy, respect, and personal responsibility. We hope to help lead the way to a society where all are treated with respect and dignity, and where nobody needs to feel scared or unsafe in their own home or community. No one deserves to be hurt, threatened, or abused.

Contact (802) 472-6463 (awarevt.org), or the Pride Center of Vermont at (802) 863-0003 (pridecentervt.org) if you or someone you love needs support or help accessing available resources. Services offered by AWARE are free, confidential, and available 24-7 to all people of all ages, races, backgrounds, abilities, sexual orientations, and gender identities.

AWARE will honor Fern -along with others who have lost their lives because of sexual, domestic or gender-based violence- at our annual candlelight vigil in September. All are welcome to join.