November 20 is Transgender Day of Remembrance. It’s a story I fervently hope I don’t have to write each year. Until our community doesn’t have to fear for their lives while trying to live their authentic selves, the story must be continued to be told.
What is this day? According to the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD), it is a day that “honors the memory of those murdered because of anti-transgender prejudice…” and it marks “the occasion with stories about the pervasive problem of crimes against transgender people…” Gwendolyn Ann Smith coordinated a vigil in honor of Rita Hester in 1999 which then became this annual day of remembrance. Hester was murdered in 1998. She was a highly visible member of the Boston, MA transgender community and worked locally educating folks on transgender issues. She was stabbed 20 times in her own apartment on November 28. Her murderer still hasn’t been found. Ms. Smith’s vigil commemorated her and all who have been tragically lost to anti-transgender violence in the previous year.
Since then, the Human Rights Campaign and others have tracked the violence against this community. They’ve tracked hundreds who were murdered in the United States. Thousands more have died worldwide. According to the website, “These victims were killed by acquaintances, partners, or strangers, some of whom have been
arrested and charged, while others have yet to be identified. Some of these cases involve clear anti-transgender bias. In others, the victim’s transgender status may have put them at risk in other ways, such as forcing them into unemployment, poverty, homelessness and/or survival sex work.”
I attended my first in person event in Santa Rosa in 2017. We held a candlelight vigil, said their names and honored their lives. Like many events, this year the events will mostly be virtual, online efforts.
Unfortunately, this year at least 34 folks will be remembered. These are the known deaths. There are others, but often they are misgendered and misidentified by police officials and families, so the true count is likely more. 2020 saw the most deaths in any single year. Here are some lost this year.
Dustin Park, age 25, was the first to die. He was fatally shot in McAlester, OK on New Year’s Day. Neulisa Luciano Ruiz was fatally shot in Toa Baja, Puerto Rico in February. Yampi Mendez Arocho, age 19, was killed in Moca, Puerto Rico in March. Monika Diamond, a Black transgender woman was killed in Charlotte, NC. You will notice that most victims are black and brown women. That’s because they are impacted by the “intersections of racism, sexism, homophobia, biphobia, transphobia.” This combination often deprives them of employment, housing, healthcare and other necessities.
In April, more died. Johanna Metzger in Baltimore, MD and Penelope Diaz Ramirez in Puerto Rico. Also, in Puerto Rico, both Serena Angelique Valazquez Ramos, age 32, and Layla Pelaez Sanchez, age 21, were killed on April 21. In May, Tony McDade, a Black transgender man was killed in Tallhassee, FL. Also, in May, Jayne Thompson, age 33, was killed by a Colorado State Patrol trooper in Mesa County. The month ended with the death of Selena Reyes-Hernandez, age 37, in Chicago, IL.
June saw the deaths of Riah Milton, age 25, a Black transgender woman in Liberty Township, OH. Dominique “Rem’mie” Fells died in Philadelphia PA and Brian “Egypt” Powers, age 43, was killed in Akron OH. Merci Mack, age 22, was another Black transgender woman, murdered in Dallas, TX. July was deadly for our community. Shaki Peters, age 32, a Black transgender woman was killed in Amite City, LA and Bree Black, age 27, also black, was killed in Pompano Beach, FL. Summer Taylor, a white non-binary person was killed on the Fourth of July while participating in a Black Lives Matter March against police brutality in Seattle, WA. Marilyn Cazares, a Latina transgender was killed in Brawley, CA and Dior H Ova, a Black transgender woman, in Bronx, NY. The deadly month ended with Aja Raquell Rhone-Spears, another Black transgender woman, in Portland, OR.
The list goes on. Kee Sam, Black transgender female in Lafayette, LA. Aerrion Burnett in Independence, MO. Mia Green, age 29, in Philadelphia, PA. Michelle Michellyn Ramos Vargas, age 30, in San German, Puerto Rico. Felycya Harris, age 33, in Augusta, GA. Angel Unique, age 25, is the last known victim this year. Another Black transgender woman, she was killed in Memphis, TN on October 25. So, I invite you to join me and our community on November 20 as we “say their names.”