On November 20, 1998, Rita Hester, an African-American transgender woman, was murdered in her apartment in Boston. She was stabbed 20 times and, while still breathing when the police found her, 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 lost their lives because of anti-transgender hatred and violence.

In 1999, Smith organized the first Transgender Day of Remembrance; more candlelight vigils and similar events have followed.

Transgender Day of Remembrance

Over twenty years have passed since the murder of Rita Hester and the first Transgender Day of Remembrance. Each year, Transgender Day of Remembrance recognizes more lost members of the trans community as murders continue to increase around the world. Twenty 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 advocate for trans inclusion. Sadly, not enough has changed.

In 2019, at least 22 transgender lives were taken in the United States. Most of the people murdered were young, Black women. In 2020, 53 transgender and gender-diverse people fell prey to hate and violence in our country, and 386 were murdered worldwide, making 2020 the year with the highest numbers of fatalities since the Human Rights Campaign started tracking these crimes in 2013. 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.

2021 is not over yet, and the transgender community has already seen at least 46 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, 2021 is likely to surpass 2020 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 peoples. The event is not only an opportunity for all communities to join transgender and gender-nonconforming people in remembering and mourning those who lost their lives in the war against prejudice, intolerance, and hatred. It is also a firm reminder that trans people are children, parents, and friends; people who have the same rights just like everyone else to love, live, and simply exist.

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, encouraging the media to speak openly, boldly, and sincerely about the urgent need to change our mentalities to stop the hate, violence, and indifference that permits these murders to continue.

We all need Transgender Day of Remembrance to gather more allies against the campaign of hatred led by an ignorant minority determined to wipe out the existence of those who dare to be different. We all need 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 Transgender Day of Remembrance for as long as trans and gender-diverse people are persecuted to preserve an illusory sense of “normality” and sacrificed on the altar of conformity.

transgender symbol

What can you do to become involved in Transgender Day of Remembrance?

You can 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 20th to honor the lives of transgender people who have been murdered. Vigils are often coordinated by local transgender advocates or LGBTQ organizations and usually take place in parks, community centers, or other venues.

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 #TDoR2021.

 

Transgender person

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:

Organizations in Los Angeles that work with the Trans* population (not an exhaustive list)–

LA LGBT Center
Transwellness Center
Trans Latina Coalition
Bienestar
Children’s Hospital
Trans Lounge
Trans Can Work
UCLA Gender Health
Gender Justice Los Angeles
Trans Chorus of Los Angeles

Other Resources throughout the US

10 Trans Advocacy Organizations to Support | Bitch Media
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)

This past weekend, on September 18th, I had the privilege of attending the Long Beach Trans Pride Festival. I wanted to take a moment to share a little about the event and why it’s so important to me. As you know, I’m an LGBTQIA+ affirmative therapist in the Los Angeles area. I’ve been working in this field for over 16 years. I help the people of the community navigate the layers of gender, sexuality, culture, and race in a world that is still learning to accept and embrace the full spectrum of unique and beautiful expressions that exist.

Julia at Long Beach Trans Pride Festival

Over the same period, I’ve also been an advocate for the community. I’ve experienced, witnessed, and fought against the discrimination and oppression that a gender non-conforming community faces. For these reasons, when possible, I feel privileged and honored to be able to attend events like the Long Beach Trans Pride Festival. It’s both encouraging and a sign of progress to see many wonderful people and organizations dedicated to helping the lives of trans individuals and advocating for the transgender community.

What is the Long Beach Trans Pride Festival?

The Long Beach Trans Pride Festival began as an idea conceived by Alexa Castanon because she wanted to highlight trans people living, working, and thriving in Long Beach. She then took her vision to her friend Angel Macias. They began by creating Angels on Earth, an awards banquet to recognize transgender community members who were committing time and resources to help trans people but didn’t receive any compensation for their services.

Long Beach Trans Pride Booth at Festival

The stories of dedication, caring, and commitment inspired Angel to do more. Her goal was to utilize the platform to spread the message that members of the Trans Community deserve to be treated with respect and dignity, just like any other human being. That their lives are just as valuable and important as those of our cisgender brothers and sisters.
After witnessing the tragic killings of trans women of color, and attending vigils and rallies denouncing them, Angel decided to go even further. In collaboration with Alexa and other Trans members at California Families in Focus, they created the Long Beach Trans Pride Festival. The one-day event, calls upon the amazing, talented, and courageous members of the Long Beach Community to help educate, elevate and encourage Trans and gender non-conforming people.

In It Together

The festival was incredible, the atmosphere reverberated with positive energy. You could feel the openness, love, and support that every person was experiencing at the event. In addition to the attendees, there were also several organizations that invested time, money, and resources to make the event such a success. These organizations work hard to help people in various communities, and it is clear that their work and support are part of what makes big successes like the festival possible. Though I can’t list every organization, I do want to call out a few that supported the event but also do fantastic work for the community.

APLA Booth at Long Beach Trans Pride Festival

APLA Health

AIDS Project Los Angeles (APLA) Health is the largest founded in 1983. Almost 4 decades later they are one of the largest non-profit HIV service organizations in the United States. Their mission is to “achieve health care equity and promote well-being for the LGBT and other underserved communities and people living with and affected by HIV.” This is a fantastic organization that I personally have a lot of experience with, and it was great to see them at the festival standing by their commitment to helping the community.

The LGBTQ Center Long Beach Booth at the Trans Pride Festival

The LGBTQ Center Long Beach

The LGBTQ Center Long Beach has been around since 1980 and provides a variety of health, social, advocacy, legal, and service programs to the LGBTQ community in the Greater Long Beach area. This tremendous organization has been working hard to help the LGBTQ community for just over 40 years. I worked at the LA LGBTQ Center for a portion of my career and can attest to the amazing work that happens at these centers. They help many, many people and it was wonderful to see them showing support at the festival.

APIT booth at Trans Pride Long Beach Festival

APAIT

APAIT was established in 1987 as a grassroots AIDS service organization for Asian and Pacific Islanders suffering from AIDS. Over the past 30+ years, they’ve grown their vision to advocate, educate, and achieve optimal health and well-being for vulnerable communities. They are a large organization that works hard to provide helpful programs and resources for the communities they serve. Their presence at the Trans Pride festival is just another sign of their unparalleled commitment.

Translatina Coalition at Trans Pride Long Beach Festival

TransLatin@ Coalition

The TransLatin@ Coalition hasn’t been around as long as some of the others but they do excellent work. It was established in 2009 by a group of transgender and gender non-conforming and Intersex (TGI) immigrant women. Their focus is helping the TGI Latin@ immigrants living in the United States. It was great to see them at the Pride festival representing who they are and what they do.

TransLounge booth at Trans Pride Long Beach Festival

Trans* Lounge

Trans* Lounge is a bit different than the other organizations on this list. They are a program within the Cultural Arts & Education Department within the Los Angeles LGBT Center. I worked at the Los Angeles LGBT Center for a portion of my career and Trans* Lounge is an integral part of the organization. Trans* Lounge offers a variety of education and empowerment programs that offer free classes and events for the TGI/ENBY+ community. It is relatively new, having been created in mid-2015. They were a welcomed presence at the Pride festival.

A Fantastic Success

Overall, the Long Beach Trans Pride Festival was a fantastic success. It was amazing to see so many people show up to demonstrate their support. I spoke with numerous friends at the event, some of them are members of the community, therapists, or employees at some of these organizations. Everyone was thrilled with the turnout, the organization of the event and grateful to support such an important cause. Please note that this is not a complete list of the organizations that attended, this would be a very long post if I went through all of them. I just listed a few that stood out to me but there were many more people and organizations that helped make the event the resounding success that it was. I know I won’t miss the next one, I had an incredible time and even my puppy had fun.

Julia with puppy at Long Beach Trans Pride Festival

You already know exercise is good for your physical health. The numerous benefits of exercise have been praised for decades now. It helps you burn calories and stay fit, protects your heart health, and improves your quality of life. But did you know that exercise has mental health benefits too? Studies have shown that exercise can be an effective tool against stress, depression, and anxiety.

While patients who battle mental health disorders often lack the motivation to practice any physical activity, an active lifestyle may help you keep your mental health conditions under control. Moreover, regular exercise can prevent mental health problems before they start.

How can exercise help with mental illness?

One of the positive effects of physical exercise is its power to enhance well-being. Exercise decreases stress hormones leading to a boost of endorphins, the chemicals that make us “feel good”. This process enhances our mood and improves energy levels. Consequently, we feel more positive and sleep better.

Physical activity can pull us out of the vicious circle of negative thoughts and emotions, often the source of our depression or anxiety, and redirect our focus towards the activity at hand. Exercise is often seen as a buffer against stress. While stress is an innate part of our life, people who work out regularly are less affected by it and find it easier to cope with everything life throws at them.

Exercise gives you a boost of self-confidence, enhances your self-esteem, and makes you feel better about yourself. Whether this happens because you lose weight, get more toned, or simply feel healthier, this benefit of exercise is all about making peace with yourself. Physical activity relieves tension and promotes mindfulness. While you focus on your yoga poses, weight training, or any other type of exercise, you concentrate entirely on your body and manage to be present, away from worries and negative thoughts that consume you. 

Additionally, exercise promotes social interaction and gives you the chance to meet new people, socialize, and escape your bubble of worries. Sometimes, a simple conversation or a smile is enough to boost our mood and feel grateful for what we have. Moreover, exercise materializes into a positive activity that helps you cope in a healthy way.

A study shows that running 15 minutes a day or walking for an hour reduces the risk of major depression by 26%. Moreover, maintaining an exercise schedule can prevent individuals from relapsing and promotes various changes in the brain to help you feel calmer and at peace.

What exercise should I do for mental health?

There are many types of exercise that can contribute to your mental health and well-being. All physical activity promotes increased energy levels, stamina, and positivity. You should find exercises that you enjoy to make it easier for you to follow a regular schedule. It is important to remember that when we say physical activity we include everything from walking to formal exercise programs. Exercise is not only about swimming, running, or lifting weights. Daily physical activities like household chores, gardening, washing your car, or taking the stairs, all count and make a difference. Now, it would be great if you were to adopt a regular exercise routine, to add a certain structure to your day that will keep you balanced and grounded. You can try one of these types of exercise:

  • Yoga – a 2018 Science Direct study shows that yoga can help reduce stress levels, lower heart rate, increase energy, and ameliorate the symptoms of depression and anxiety;
  • Tai chi – an ancient Chinese martial art, this type of exercise, according to Science Daily, reduces stress and anxiety, contributes to the treatment of depression, and increases self-esteem;
  • Aerobic exercise – whether it is jogging, swimming, playing basketball, or cycling, regular aerobic exercise improves mental health and reduces the symptoms of depression, anxiety, and panic disorder.

Regardless of the type of exercise you choose, you can expect a prompt release of endorphins, an increased sense of self-efficacy, and lower levels of anxiety and depression. Exercise works just like an antidepressant by increasing the brain’s levels of neurotransmitters and enhancing mood.

How often should I exercise to see results?

Fortunately, you don’t have to exercise for hours to reap the beneficial effects exercise has on your well-being and mental health. Only 30 minutes of exercise a day for three to five days a week will be more than enough for you to feel more confident, happier, and less anxious. However, even smaller amounts of moderate exercise, such as 10 or 15 minutes at a time, may help. You can break your exercise schedule into several short sessions or simply plan your physical activity according to your daily routine. Choose to take the stairs, park farther away from your destination or cycle to work.

Remember that more exercise is not necessarily better for you. You don’t need to run 10k to improve your mental health and emotional well-being. The key is consistency. Regular physical activity over a long period of time beats any intense physical activity practiced sporadically.

Time Magazine explains, researchers have found a higher mental health burden for people who exercise for more than six hours a week than for those who keep it to three to five times a week. The answer is not at all difficult to understand: basically, shorter exercise sessions are easier to fit in our daily routine and promote consistency.

Nevertheless, before you begin an exercise program, discuss it with a health professional. They can help you choose the best form of exercise for you depending on your health, medication, fitness level, and lifestyle.

Whether you want to exercise for depression, anxiety, or any other mental health disorders, you should start slowly and keep experimenting until you find the perfect type of exercise for you. Our bodies are different and we should respect their limits. Make a commitment to your exercise plan and never overdo it. The role of exercise is to make you healthier and happier. However, if you start seeing it as a burden or task, it loses its therapeutic effects and just adds to your anxieties.

Yoga

What is Mindful Self-Compassion?

Why do so many people stumble or struggle with being kind to themselves? Why is it often easier to be kind to others and not to ourselves? A common fear around self-compassion is that it’s merely a form of self-pity.

Self-pity comes from a perspective of “poor me”, feeling sorry for yourself. Compassion involves recognizing the difficulty of the situation and research shows that those who practice it, focus on their situation or circumstances less overall. For this reason, they usually have better overall mental health than those that do not practice self-compassion.

Mindful self-compassion is the combination of two critical practices that should be applied in daily life — Mindfulness and self-compassion.

What is mindfulness?

Let’s start with the term mindfulness. You’ve probably heard about mindfulness, maybe even seen some books, or heard a podcast on the subject. Mindfulness requires that you bring your attention to the present moment. Being fully conscious and aware of all that is happening right now. This means letting go of those issues you have to deal with at work tomorrow, the bills at the end of the month, the dinner you have to cook for your family, etc. Release everything that is not of the present moment.

Through mindfulness, you replace all those thoughts keeping your mind busy, with all the feelings and sensations you are experiencing right now. Feel each breath as it enters and leaves your body, listen carefully to the sounds around you, focus on all the signals your body is sending you from head to toe. Thoughts from the past or the future may enter, but don’t hang onto them. Let them go with your breath and return to silence, simply experiencing all the sensations within and around you.

Don’t be discouraged, it takes practice to hone the skills of mindfulness. Initially, you may get only a few seconds before thoughts about the past or the future rush back in. Treat yourself with kindness, don’t engage with them, don’t deny them, let them be, and patiently let them go. Welcome to the conscious present moment.

Girl with her eyes closed and smiling

What is self-compassion?

The second piece to mindful self-compassion begins with understanding what is compassion. Imagine that your best friend, or your child, came to you because they had a rough day. Maybe teachers or friends had some harsh criticism for them and they are experiencing some difficult or challenging emotions related to this.

In this situation, most people would show their best friend or their child some degree of compassion. This would entail acknowledging their painful emotions and responding with warmth, caring, and kindness. We’ve all been on the other side of this situation as well, it might have been a parent, a friend, or a skilled teacher, but we’ve all been shown compassion at some point in our lives.

I can already hear the chorus of “this is obvious” and that’s good. But let me ask you, when was the last time you extended that same warmth, caring, and kindness to yourself?

That is precisely what self-compassion is. When faced with our own personal shortcomings and struggles, most people are quick to judge, condemn, and punish themselves. Even now, some of you are defending that behavior. I can hear you, “my struggles occur because I made a mistake”, “I have high standards”, “there’s no excuse for not achieving my goals”, etc.
The people that treat us that way in our personal lives, we usually don’t keep around for very long. So we should make it our goal to practice self-compassion and focus on achieving that goal so that we can be kinder to ourselves.

The 3 Elements of Self-Compassion

Self-Kindness vs Self-Judgement

Compassion emphasizes being kind to yourself. The world is a difficult place, and it’s not always possible to be or achieve what you want. It’s great to pursue ambitious goals. The key is when we fall short, to recognize the difficulties and our imperfection, to realize that a shortcoming does not make us inadequate or incomplete. Judging ourselves for the failure creates suffering that is expressed as stress, frustration, and self-criticism.

Common Humanity vs Isolation

In the face of our defeats, many have a tendency to feel like they are the only ones who have failed. That they alone are damaged in some way and that’s the reason for the failure. The truth is the opposite. All humans are imperfect, fragile, and have many shortcomings. It’s not something to be ashamed of or a reason to judge yourself. Those experiences, those areas for improvement, those failures are shared by all of humanity, not just you.

Mindfulness vs Over-Identification

The last piece is the mindfulness element. This requires that we recognize our fears and emotions when faced with our struggles and hold our attention on keeping them in perspective. Approach the situation and your feelings with openness and clarity. Be fully present in your emotions without suppressing them or amplifying them. This takes focus and practice, but it’s something that once you learn will be beneficial in your daily life.

Self-Compassion Training Exercises

Compassion is like a muscle, the more you practice it the more it develops. So to help you get started on your compassion journey, below are 3 exercises you can do to start leveling up your self-compassion skills.

How would you treat a friend?

As mentioned earlier, we’re usually much better at showing compassion to others than we are to ourselves. So reframe your situation and imagine how you would treat a friend experiencing what you are going through. What would you tell them? How is it different than what you have been telling yourself? Should it be different?

Changing your critical self-talk

The way we talk to ourselves has a profound effect on all areas of our life. Identifying negative self-talk and replacing it with more positive communication is the foundation for improving the way you relate to yourself. This one takes a lot of practice, stick with it.

Keep a self-compassion journal

For some, writing down your feelings can help you process them. Doing it from the perspective of compassion can enhance your mental well-being. Sometimes reviewing our thoughts later when we have a cooler head can reveal issues in the way we reason or communicate with ourselves.

Woman looking at herself in the mirror

Want to Learn More?

Mindful Self-Compassion (MSC) was developed by Christopher Germer and Kristin Neff. They have written books on the subject and have a mindful self-compassion program and workshops. As authors and teachers, they have developed and taught a variety of self-compassion practices. They have videos, courses, workbooks, compassion training programs, and are a tremendous resource for all things related to compassion.