September 26, 2011 at 11:08 am EDT | by Lou Chibbaro Jr.
Dupont Circle vigil for slain engineer, theater director draws over 200
Gopalan memorial march

Participants of a candle light vigil for slain aeorspace engineer and theater director Gaurav Gopalan arriving at a memorial site in Columbia Heights near where his body was found after they walked from Dupont Circle. (Washington Blade photo by Lou Chibbaro)

More than 200 people turned out Sunday night in Dupont Circle for a candle light vigil in honor of Gaurav Gopalan, a 35-year-old gay aerospace engineer and theater director who was found dead Sept. 10 on a sidewalk near where he lived in the city’s Columbia Heights section.

Police have ruled the death a homicide and said Gopalan died from blunt force trauma to the head. Police say they have no suspects and no known motive for the murder.

Transgender activists have expressed concern that Gopalan might have been targeted for his gender identity because he was found dressed in women’s clothes and wearing facial makeup.

Nearly a dozen friends and community activists spoke at the vigil, with most reading excerpts from Shakespeare plays and sonnets to pay tribute to what they said was Gopalan’ love of Shakespeare’s works.

Many of the friends said they met Gopalan through various theater companies and groups, and worked with him on productions of Shakespeare plays, where he served as an assistant director.

“Gaurav touched so many souls in D.C.,” said Jason McCool, who collaborated with Gopalan on the production of Shakespeare plays. “He was a bright ray of positive energy and I will never, ever forget what he contributed to my life. To me, his spirit will remain forever alive and present.”

Gopalan’s partner, Bob Shaeffer, thanked organizers of the vigil and those who attended for their support of him during a trying time.

“This would have pleased Gaurav,” he said. “Gaurav changed my life. There wasn’t a day we were together that we didn’t say we loved each other.”

Shaeffer called on the community to apply pressure on D.C. police to “do more” to find out who killed his partner and bring that person to justice.

Other speakers included D.C. Council member Jim Graham (D-Ward 1), who represents the Columbia Heights neighborhood where Gopalan was found dead; transgender activist Earline Budd; Shiva Subbaraman, director of Georgetown University’s LGBTQ Resource Center and a friend of Gopalan’s; and a representative of the South Asian LGBT group Khush D.C., who didn’t identify himself. McCool read a letter from D.C. Congressional Delegate Eleanor Homes Norton praising Gopalan for his contribution to D.C. both as an aerospace engineer and a theater director.

“We are determined to get to the bottom of this,” Graham told the gathering. “We are determined to bring this killer to justice and to support everyone in the District of Columbia affected by this.”

At the conclusion of the vigil, participants marched from Dupont Circle to Columbia Heights, where they gathered on the 2600 block of 11th Street, N.W., at the site where Gopalan was found unconscious shortly after 5 a.m. on Sept. 10.

The site is marked by a large photo of Gopalan that friends attached to a tree and by flowers placed at the foot of the tree. Virgil participants, who had walked more than two miles from Dupont Circle, placed lit candles next to the flowers, creating a glowing memorial on the sidewalk.

With the candles flickering before him, McCool read from a theater program note that Gopalan wrote in connection with one of the Shakespeare plays that Gopalan played a role in producing in the D.C. area:

“There is no judgment…only light and dark, only truth and ignorance,” McCool quoted Gopalan as saying. “What is true is good; evil is quite simply ignorance.”

Lou Chibbaro Jr. has reported on the LGBT civil rights movement and the LGBT community for more than 30 years, beginning as a freelance writer and later as a staff reporter and currently as Senior News Reporter for the Washington Blade. He has chronicled LGBT-related developments as they have touched on a wide range of social, religious, and governmental institutions, including the White House, Congress, the U.S. Supreme Court, the military, local and national law enforcement agencies and the Catholic Church. Chibbaro has reported on LGBT issues and LGBT participation in local and national elections since 1976. He has covered the AIDS epidemic since it first surfaced in the early 1980s. Follow Lou

  • May he rest in peace and may god bring peace to those he left behind especially his family and his partner Bob Shaeffer.

  • Please stop referencing Shiva Subbaraman in articles regarding Gaurav Gopalan. She is not a person that people should aspire to be like. If Georgetown University knew of her bigoted racist viewpoints concerning LGBTQ issues, the institute would probably not be so enthused to have her directing the LGBTQ Resource Center. Refer to my comment on the article “Vigils, Memorial Planned For Slain Gay Engineer” for additional information on my opinion of Shiva Subbaraman. Furthermore, Gaurav probably had a lot of friends, is Shiva the only friend of his that is willing to talk at his vigil? I would rather listen to them instead of her.

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