On November 20, 1998, Rita Hester, an African-American transgender woman, was murdered in her apartment in Boston. She was stabbed 20 times and was still breathing when the police found her. Tragically, she died the same day at the hospital. She was 34 years old.
While Rita Hester was not the first trans woman to fall victim to anti-trans violence, her incident compelled activist Gwendolyn Ann Smith to start the Remembering Our Dead web project. The event was dedicated to the murdered trans and gender-diverse people in the United States. It was organized as a vigil to honor the memory of Rita and all the trans people who have become victims of anti-transgender hatred.
In 1999, Smith organized the first Transgender Day of Remembrance, and more candlelight vigils and similar events followed the next years.
Transgender Day of Remembrance
More than 20 years have passed since the murder of Rita Hester and the first Transgender Day of Remembrance, and the event continues to count new murders of transgender community members. 23 years have gone by since Smith started the campaign to end anti-transgender violence and raise awareness regarding the urgent need to educate ourselves about gender-nonconforming people and trans inclusion. And, sadly, not enough has changed.
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In 2019, at least 22 transgender lives were taken in the United States. Most of the people murdered were young, black women. In 2020, 44 transgender and gender-diverse people fell prey to hate and violence in our country, and 350 were murdered worldwide. And, unfortunately, the tragedy only grows from here.
2021 was the year with the highest number of fatalities since the Human Rights Campaign started tracking these crimes in 2013. 57 transgender people fell prey to acts of violence in the United States alone, and 375 transgender people were killed worldwide, with most of the murders (70%) happening in Central and South America. Real people with real lives and real stories lost their life because of a lack of education, inclusivity, and tolerance.
These numbers do not account for the transgender people who have taken their own lives because of national indifference, a culture of intolerance, and hatred propagated by the ignorance and prejudice of a portion of the population.
2022 is not over yet, and the transgender community has already seen at least 29 of its members killed for daring to be true to their own selves. Unfortunately, it is possible the number is higher than reported because many stories about transgender people being murdered go unreported, misreported, or unnoticed. Globally, 2022 is likely to surpass 2021 as the most deadly year on record for the trans community, and a majority of those killed in 2021 were transgender women of color, with a high number of deaths happening in Brazil and the United States.
Why does the world need the Transgender Day of Remembrance?
Awareness is key to ending violence against transgender and gender-diverse people. Rita Hester’s murder was the catalyst to this movement but the many lives lost every year among transgender and gender non-conforming people due to brutal violence should determine the rest of us to do more, try more, fight more! Considering the increasing number of deaths and constant violation of the rights of transgender people, it is obvious we are not doing everything in our power to crush this epidemic of violence.
The Transgender Day of Remembrance is not only an opportunity for communities of transgender and gender non-conforming individuals, as well as trans activists to remember and mourn the ones who lost their lives in the war against prejudice, intolerance, and hatred. It also is a firm reminder that trans people are sons, daughters, parents, and friends, people who have the same rights just like everyone else to love, live, and simply be. The event is an occasion to come together and find real solutions that promote transgender rights and encourage funding opportunities to sustain the cause and help transgender individuals be who they are while becoming the best version of themselves and finding their rightful place in our community.
Transgender Day of Remembrance raises awareness of hate crimes that are still happening against the trans community and encourages people to educate themselves, advocate for change, and embrace the world as it truly is: diverse and unique. The campaign addresses issues that plague the lives of trans and gender-diverse individuals and encourages the media to speak openly, boldly, and sincerely about the urgent need to change our mentalities and stop the hate, violence, and indifference that permits these murders to continue.
We need the Transgender Day of Remembrance to gather more allies against the campaign of hatred led by an uneducated majority determined to wipe out the existence of those who dare to be different. We need the Transgender Day of Remembrance to stand in vigil and remember those who have died because they choose to be free and live “differently”. We will continue to need the Transgender Day of Remembrance for as long as trans and gender-diverse people are martyrized on the altar of conformity and sacrificed to preserve an illusory sense of “normality”.
What can you do to become involved in the Transgender Day of Remembrance?
Educate yourself and others about what being a transgender or gender-diverse person means and how you can help stop the stigma associated with their communities. You can advocate for trans-inclusive policies and practices in your workplace, school, town, or city. You can participate or organize a vigil in your neighborhood on November 20 to honor the lives of transgender people who have been murdered. Vigils are organized by local transgender advocates or LGBTQ organizations and usually take place in parks, community centers, or other venues. Use this annual observance day to raise awareness about trans rights and address issues that concern the community.
You can write stories, articles, or news pieces about victims of transphobic violence and anti-trans hatred and bring them to the attention of local and national media outlets. Telling their stories out loud raises awareness and gives a voice to those who are no longer able to use theirs. Amplify trans voices and take action to stop the abuse and ignorance.
You can offer transgender and gender-diverse people employment, medical care, tutoring, food resources, and any other type of help they need and is in your power to offer. You can be there for them and be an example in your community. You can lead people on the path of inclusion, acceptance, tolerance, and understanding.
Furthermore, you can donate to organizations that help trans people of color, sex workers, migrants, asylum seekers, and refugees, as many of them are victims of discrimination, abuse, persecution, and violence. And, of course, you can mobilize your friends and followers to stand with you and share news about the campaign and events in their communities using social media and the hashtag #TDoR2022.
Helpful resources to get involved
Disclaimer: The following is a list of possible resources throughout the United States. This list is provided solely as a resource and none of the following organizations are endorsed by Julia Schwab Therapy.
GLAAD has put together a great list of resources for anyone who’d like to get involved. Below are a few examples:
- GLAAD’s Resource Kit for Journalists Covering TDOR
- Anti-Violence Project
- National Center for Transgender Equality
- Trans Women of Color Collective
Organizations in Los Angeles that work with the Trans* population (not an exhaustive list)–
Other Resources throughout the US
TRANScending Barriers Atlanta Transgender Nonprofit (Atlanta)
Brave Space Alliance (Chicago)
Ingersoll Gender Center (Seattle)
New York Transgender Advocacy Group (nytag.org) (New York)
Boston Area Trans Support (massbats.org) (Boston)
Transgender Education Network of Texas (transtexas.org) (Texas)
TransAL | MobPride (Alabama)
BreakOUT! – Fighting the criminalization of LGBTQ youth in New Orleans, LA / Luchando contra la criminalización de los jóvenes LGBTQ en Nueva Orleans, LA (youthbreakout.org) (Louisiana)
Transgender Resources | The City of Portland, Oregon (portlandoregon.gov) (Portland resources)
Transinclusive Group (Florida)
Charleston Area Trans Support (chasareatsupport.org) (South Carolina)
LGBT Center of Raleigh (North Carolina)
Welcome to OUTMemphis – OUTMemphis (Tennessee)
Resources · Transformations KC • Kansas City’s Transgender Youth Group (Kansas and Missouri)
TEA of Utah (Utah)
The Center – Western Montana’s LGBTQ+ Community Center – Missoula (gaymontana.org) (Montana)
Identity Alaska – advancing Alaska’s LGBT community (Alaska)
Resources – Transgender Assistance Program of Virginia (tapvirginia.org) (Virginia)
StoneWall Society GLBT Resources in West Virginia (West Virginia resources)
TRANSGENDER SUPPORT – OKEQ – Oklahoma’s resource for LGBT persons and their families (Oklahoma)
Welcome to the Transgender Equality Network – Transgender Equality Network (transequalitynetwork.org) (Arkansas)
Here you can find a list of events happening around West Hollywood during the month of November that the city has prepared to Commemorate Transgender Awareness Month and Transgender Day of Remembrance.
Post Update: The article was updated on October 29th, 2022, originally published on November 18th, 2021. It has been completely revamped and updated for accuracy and comprehensiveness.