Commemorating Lost Lives on Transgender Day of Remembrance

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Each year, Nov. 20 marks Transgender Day of Remembrance (TDOR). On this day, through mourning, reflection, and activation, people name and remember all the trans people who were murdered during the year around the world. TDOR was co-founded by Gwendolynn Ann Smith in 1999 to honor Rita Hester, a Black trans woman who was brutally murdered in 1998.

This day is meant to take stock of trans lives that have been lost and remind us of the urgent need for resources to protect and support the transgender community.

Remembering Our Dead

Smith also initiated Remembering Our Dead, which serves as a companion resource for TDOR events. Initially foucsed on those we lost to murder, it later began to include trans people lost to suicide as well. Despite unprecedented visibility of trans people in the media in recent years, rates of violence continue to rise. As Dr. Eric Stanley, an associate professor in gender and women’s studies at UC Berkeley, stated in an interview with Berkeley News, "visibility … does not self-evidently produce material changes."

In the U.S., the vast majority of trans people we lose each year are young Black and brown trans women. Recognizing this reality means that efforts to thwart the epidemic of violence against trans people must center Black and brown trans women. An intersectional approach is critical for trans advocacy in general, as well as at TDOR events. TDOR events led by and focused on white and/or cisgender people and organizations position trans women of color only as dead subjects to be mourned.

By the Numbers

2020 was a record-breaking year in the U.S., with 44 recorded murders of trans people in the country. This year seems likely to exceed that, averaging one murder every 7 days over the first 268 days of 2021. As of the writing of this article, 37 trans people have been murdered in 2021. The latest loss was our sister, Brianna Hamilton, a Black trans woman. She was killed on September 17. Brianna was the third victim of anti-trans murder in Chicago this year — the previous two victims were also Black trans women.

The intersection of racism, classism, and transmisogyny is why 34 out of 37 — or 92% — of anti-trans murder victims this year have been trans women of color. And 76% of these victims were Black trans women. The majority were also young, with 65% of victims being under the age of 30 — below the average 35-year life expectancy of Black trans women. Between 2010 and 2014, 1 in 19,000 people in the US was murdered. For young Black trans women, that rate was 1 in 2,600.

More Than Numbers

As stark as these numbers are, the trans siblings we have lost are more than statistics. They had names, stories, loved ones, and dreams unrealized. TDOR is an opportunity for us to speak their names and keep their stories alive, stories that often go untold. The media tends to focus on their deaths, with little attention to their lives. And many victims are misgendered and misnamed.

GLAAD, an organization monitoring LGBTQ+ representation, created resources for reporting on transgender victims to shift the media narrative and address trans erasure.

Resources for Trans Students

TDOR can be a tough time for trans people. Some experience "TDORs" throughout the year — by losing loved ones; experiencing harassment and violence, or knowing others who do; or finding stories on social media about the murder of another trans person. And this negative impact is often heightened when we see victims and survivors who look like us. We've often had to rely on each other for support and in many ways we still do — through friends, chosen family, and support groups and trans-led organizations.

It is critical for our well-being that we seek out the help we need, including emotional support. Some sources of support (with examples) include:

Some of these sources may not be ideal for you. However, they can be conduits for the support you need. For example, residence hall directors may not be trained to provide adequate support, but they can likely help you find it.

Getting Involved and Being Supportive

  • Find out where the closest TDOR event is. Attend with the intention of listening, learning, and paying your respects. Events include vigils, marches, forums and panels with local advocates, poetry and spoken word readings, documentary screenings, memorials with photographs, and other visual representations.
  • If you aren't trans, resist the urge to lead TDOR events. Make efforts to work with trans people and follow their leadership.
  • Check in with your trans friends and family to ask what we need. This might include emotional support, a ride, a distraction, meals, or other types of material support. Don't seek out trans people randomly, as performative acts often cause further harm. Focus on trans people you are authentically connected with. If you aren't connected with any trans folks, ask yourself why that is and what you can do to change it.
  • If you learn about a trans person's murder, look out for requests from their friends and family. These may include solicitations for letters/calls to media or police, requests to amplify their loved one's story, appeals for contributions to fundraisers for funeral costs, and requests for other forms of emotional and material support. Again, make sure you're providing the support people are asking for rather than unintentionally causing more pain.
  • Learn about systemic and institutional barriers that place trans people at risk for all forms of violence, and do your part to address these issues and resist transphobia. The U.S. Transgender Survey is an excellent resource.

In Closing…

"We must never forget that all of this is just a means to an end — that end being an end to transphobic violence and everything that stems from it." — Remembering Our Dead

"None of us are innocent. We must envision practices of remembrance that situate our own positions within structures of power that authorize violence in the first place. Our task is to move from sympathy to responsibility, from complicity to reflexivity, from witnessing to action. It is not enough to simply honor the memory of the dead — we must transform the practices of the living." — Sarah Lamble

Editor's Note: This article contains general information and is not intended to be a substitute for professional advice. Please consult a professional advisor before making decisions about issues related to mental health.

Feature Image: Justin Lambert / DigitalVision / Getty Images