The Transgender Day of Remembrance was first observed in 1999; organized by Gwendolyn Ann Smith to memorialize the murder of Rita Hester. This event has evolved from a web-based project to an international day of action. This event, which commemorates and memorializes the transgender individuals who have died as a direct result of violence against trans individuals, has grown into an international call to action from trans rights groups and allies. This day is spent honoring those lost to trans violence, making it truly our best opportunity to discuss how devastating this loss is. Trans Day of Remembrance is similar to a funeral or wake; although there is an effort to shine light on the ways things are changing and that people can fight back, the core message is about space for grief.
The annual event, which celebrates the lives of trans individuals lost, falls on November 20th each year and seeks to combat trans violence, stigma, and erasure, and has for over a decade in a variety of different ways. Activist groups such as Trans Lives Matter, Human Rights Campaign, and Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation and many others offer education, history, and ways to get involved in ground level activism through their websites. The most important function of Trans Day of Remembrance is to restore dignity; the direct opposite of a hate crime.
The numbers for trans violence are often completely unknown even to those who are active in the fight to lower those numbers. In 2019, 331 people were lost worldwide, but those numbers often vary. Suicides in general are not reported. Language barriers can sometimes mean we don’t know when a trans person has died. Sometimes the family asks that the death not be reported either as murder or suicide. More commonly people are simply misgendered, by family, friends, and police. This possibility is raised when the person was a sex worker or activist. Lists can be found from Human Rights Campaign, Trans Lives Matter, Trans Murder Monitoring, and the orginal blog of Gwendolyn Smith. Trigger warning (far too late): these lists can be hard to read. Many of the deaths are extremely violent. The numbers can be and are painful.
Over the decades of commemorating Trans Day of Remembrance, a number of traditions have popped up. It is very common to have a candlelight vigil and a reading of the U.S. names. Some events have included art shows, fundraisers, and a call to social justice. For many, simply knowing the statistics, which show that murders occur most among trans women of color and that all trans people are at risk, can spur action all year. This is a space where the trans community is especially isolated, and having allies is necessary. It is a space for communities to connect and experience together.
This year, the week leading up to Trans Day of Remembrance is also Trans Week of Awareness for Seattle Central. Trans Week of Awareness links up with TDoR for a reason; it is the hope that by raising visibility that people will be willing to see the horror of the numbers of deaths set before them. For the trans community and activist allies alike, this is not a one week or one day event; it is something we face and fight daily. In the past year, studies have shown that 80% of trans people in the U.S. live in fear for their lives, and 70% have been assaulted by a sexual partner. While TDoR is intended as a grieving and activist event, Trans Week of Awareness hopes to create education and allyship while commemorating the successes within the trans community.
This year Seattle Central College will be commemorating both of these events through Queer Co-op, our on campus LGBT+++ and Ally club. Starting Monday, November 18, be on the lookout for those wearing the Queer Co-op logo or dressed in the colours of the trans flag; white, blue and pink. These are excellent people to talk to if you have questions about either Trans Week of Visibility or Trans Day of Remembrance. Queer Co-op is also fundraising for Trans Lifeline, which provides a suicide hotline for trans individuals and other resources. This fundraiser is available through Facebook, and the organization can take donations directly. Like the violence and homicide rates, suicide rates also remain extremely high for trans individuals.
Queer Co-op will also be hosting a Trans Day of Remembrance event on November 20th, from 6-7:30 in BE 1110. The event is being sponsored by Human Rights Campaign and Gender Justice League. It is open to the public, although students will have access to light refreshments. There will be a number of speakers to help add emphasis to the activism and advocacy we can engage in when faced with these numbers. Queer Co-op has been working hard on a number of posters; one features every international report and picture that could be found, one is designated for U.S. deaths, and a final poster looks at the history of TDoR and how to move forward. There will also be small boats for every geographic area, color coded, with matching slips of paper so attendees can say their farewells, and write their hopes for the person’s community, and what they will do moving forward to reduce these statistics in the future. Finally, there will be a candlelight vigil and reading of the U.S. names.
This is a hard event; it is hard to look so much hatred and violence in the face and plan how to move forward but that is exactly what so many of us have been doing for a long time. Every year, we get an opportunity; to talk, to connect with our community, to grieve, and to move forward. With that, I invite everyone to engage in Trans Week of Awareness and if you are willing and able, to attend Trans Day of Remembrance.
Morgan is a Seattle Central alumni currently attending Oregon State University where she is majoring in Anthropology. In addition to writing, she enjoys painting and linguistics. She lives in a very small house with a very fat cat.