Transgender Day of Remembrance

[Content Note: Transphobia; violence; neglect; sexual assault; self-harm.]

image of a candle burning at my home this morning
A candle burns at Shakes Manor.

Today marks the 19th Annual Transgender Day of Remembrance, which is "set aside to memorialize those who were killed due to anti-transgender hatred or prejudice. The event is held in November to honor Rita Hester, whose murder on November 28th, 1998 kicked off the 'Remembering Our Dead' web project and a San Francisco candlelight vigil in 1999. Rita Hester's murder — like most anti-transgender murder cases — has yet to be solved."

Transgender Europe's Trans Murder Monitoring Project reports: "In the past 12 months, 325 trans and gender-diverse people were reported murdered globally. Of the reported killings worldwide, migrants and sex workers make up the majority of victims." (Additional information on the project here.)

The official TDOR website remembers many of those people, sharing their names as available. So many of the victims are simply remembered as "Name Unknown."

Every year I quote this and this year will be no different, because it is so important: Julia Serano, a trans activist and author of Whipping Girl: A Transsexual Woman on Sexism and the Scapegoating of Femininity, has noted that transphobia kills not just by violent action, but apathetic inaction.
Trans people are often targeted for violence because their gender presentation, appearance and/or anatomy falls outside the norms of what is considered acceptable for a woman or man. A large percentage of trans people who are killed [work in the sex trade], and their murders often go unreported or underreported due to the public presumption that those engaged in sex work are not deserving of attention or somehow had it coming to them.

Some trans people are killed as the result of being denied medical services specifically because of their trans status, for example, Tyra Hunter, a transsexual woman who died in 1995 after being in a car accident. EMTs who arrived on the scene stopped providing her with medical care—and instead laughed and made slurs at her—upon discovering that she had male genitals.
The 2001 documentary Southern Comfort details the last year in the life of Robert Eads, who died of ovarian cancer after two dozen doctors refused him treatment.

That's the kind of hate crime that doesn't make headlines. Or even federal hate crimes statistics.

Just last week, the ACLU of Pennsylvania filed a lawsuit on behalf of Jules Williams, a transgender woman who "suffered sexual and physical assault and harassment multiple times while detained at the Allegheny County Jail between 2015 and 2017 in Pittsburgh. Even though she is a woman, which the state recognizes on her identification card, Ms. Williams was processed and incarcerated with men."

Her harrowing case is indicative of the vile treatment of trans inmates in civilian prisons, military prisons, and immigration detention centers.

Many of them lose, or take, their lives as a result of this systemic hostility.

We remember all the victims of violence and apathy and institutional transphobia today.

A day that I wish, that we all wish, didn't have to exist at all.

I hate that there are trans people who die because of hatred and neglect and ostracization, and I hate there are people who have to document the most violent of these deaths, committed to an important project the best possible result of which would be that it ends because we don't need it anymore. Because there are no more deaths to document.

In 2014, Gwendolyn Ann Smith, the founder of TDOR, wrote movingly here about the history and import of the day. About why we need it still.

No oppression has ever been eradicated by a careful, polite, diligent deference to pretending it doesn't exist. That is the importance of a day of remembrance.

No oppression has ever been eradicated without meaningful inclusion and visibility, either, which slowly chips away at the privilege that underwrites marginalization. That is the importance of vigilance in community every day of the year.

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I recognize that trans people have all kinds of different feelings about the Day of Remembrance, and if you're someone who needs to express distress about it, please know you have a space to do that here.

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