There are many special days in the month of November. Daylight Savings Time ended on Nov. 3. We held our elections on the 5th. We honored our military veterans on the 11th. We’ll encourage folks to quit smoking on the 21st during the Great American Smoke out. And of course, on Nov. 28 we’ll celebrate with family and friends - Thanksgiving Day. However, there is another day of Remembrance in the month of Nov. you may not have heard about. That’s the Transgender Day of Remembrance (TDOR) held annually on Nov. 20.
“Transgender Day of Remembrance” according to the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) Resource Kit for Journalists “honors the memory of those murdered because of anti-transgender prejudice...” and marks “the occasion with stories about the pervasive problem of crimes against transgender people...”. Here is my contribution to that effort.
In 1999 Gwendolyn Ann Smith coordinated a vigil in honor of Rita Hester who was murdered in 1998. Rita Hester, a highly visible member of the Boston, MA transgender community, worked locally educating folks on transgender issues. She was stabbed 20 times in her apartment on Sat., Nov. 28. A neighbor called police and she was rushed to a hospital but died minutes after arriving. Her murderer still hasn’t been found. Ms. Smith’s vigil, although in Rita’s honor, commemorated her and all who had been tragically lost to anti-transgender violence in the previous year.
In Ms. Smith’s own words “Transgender Day of Remembrance seeks to highlight the losses we face due to anti-transgender bigotry and violence. I am no stranger to the need to fight for our rights, and the right to simply exist is first and foremost. With so many seeking to erase transgender people – sometimes in the most brutal ways possible – it is vitally important that those we lose are remembered, and that we continue to fight for justice.”
How brutal? According Wikipedia’s list of transgender violent deaths in the United States there have been over at least 99 murders of transgender men and women in the United States since 2016. An International list shows at least 331 deaths worldwide in 2019 with Brazil by far having the most reported murders at 130 followed by Mexico with 63 and then the United States with 30. I want to stress that these lists are just about unlawful deaths meaning they do not include lawful deaths, suicides, accident, or other causes.
The term “at least” is valid for many reasons. According to the Human Rights Campaign (HRC): “data collection is often incomplete and unreliable when it comes to violent and fatal crimes against transgender people.” Why? Some go unreported. HRC also said others, if reported, may not be properly identified as transgender by the authorities or media “often because authorities, journalists and/or family members refuse to acknowledge their gender identity.” The count each year may also differ depending on the organization tracking the deaths. Some count the violent deaths from Nov. 20 until Nov. 19 of the following year. Wikipedia and others count on a calendar year basis.
According to HRC approximately 82 percent of Transgender violent deaths are women of color. 64 percent are under the age of 35 while 55 percent of them occurred in the South. Using the Wikipedia lists from 2016-2019, I found Texas had 16 percent, followed by Florida (11 percent), Ohio (8 percent), and Louisiana (7 percent). Five states came in at 4 percent. They were Georgia, Illinois, Michigan, New York, and Pennsylvania. California accounted for 3 percent of the violent deaths over the last four years.
I vividly recall my first attendance and participation at a Transgender Day of Remembrance. It was Nov. 20, 2017. It consisted of a silent candlelight march starting and ending at the Brew Coffee and Beer House in Santa Rosa on Healdsburg Avenue. The march covered but a few city blocks, but it was beautiful and moving. Returning to Brew we had a guest speaker, a longtime member of the Sonoma County transgender community. We then had members of the community come up and read the 26 names lost since the last Day of Remembrance. A short overview of the location and cause of death for each victim was included. Members of the community also had the chance to make remarks to the gathered crowd. Many did so. Tears flowed freely. It was both a solemn yet wonderful experience.
I also attended the 2018 event at Brew. That year it was strictly an indoor event due to weather concerns. No march but otherwise very similar to 2017. As reported in the Press Democrat, May 2017, Brew is “a safe space for LGBTQ community.” As part of their story they reported: “Next to the waving rainbow flag, an unambiguous sign states to all who enter: “We welcome all races, all religions, all countries of origin, all sexual orientations, all genders. We stand with you. You are safe here.” Having visited Brew many times over the last few years I can attest that’s exactly who they are!
Due to surgery, I was unable to attend this year’s event. It was again held at Brew and included a candlelit parade, speakers, hugs and tears. I was certainly there in spirit. I re-read the 2019 list of names and their stories. I remembered Brooklyn Lindsey, age 32, of Kansas City from my birth state of Missouri who was beaten and shot multiple times on June 25. I remembered Brianna “B.B.” Hill, age 30, also of Kansas City who was shot and killed this year on the Oct. 14. I also remembered Ally Steinfeld, age 17, whose body was found stabbed and burned in Texas County, Missouri in 2017.
I certainly remembered Gwen Araujo, who was viciously beaten and strangled to death by four men at a Newark, Ca. house party on Oct. 4, 2002, when they found out she was biologically male. Her story was memorialized in the 2006 movie: “A Girl Like Me: The Gwen Araujo Story.” On Nov. 20th, even if you couldn’t participate in a local event, I hope you paused in your busy daily activities and thought about those that have been lost this year. I hope you found it in your heart and soul to accept the local Transgender community even if you may not understand their journeys and challenges. I hope you will be part of the solution to ending the potential violence and deaths this community faces each year. And I pray that one day – we have no list of names to be remembered on the Nov. 20.