As a trans woman who writes about trans issues, I've written many pieces about the Transgender Day of Remembrance (TDoR) over the years. The TDoR, specifically, and transgender discrimination are my beat as a writer.
Yet I deeply wish that we will never again need articles like these—that we will have made this topic a thing of the past by solving transgender discrimination and ending violence against transgender people. In the future, the hope is that the Transgender Day of Remembrance may no longer be necessary without violent deaths of transgender people in the past year—or the year before that.
Sadly, I do not believe I will ever live to see that day. Though we have made significant progress, what does it say about our society if we do not take care of the most vulnerable among us?
The Origins of The Transgender Day of Remembrance
The Transgender Day of Remembrance began as a candlelit vigil in 1999 to memorialize the 1998 murder of Rita Hester, a trans woman of color, which occurred in Allston, Massachusetts. The vigil was organized by Gwendolyn Ann Smith, a transgender writer, and others after Smith made a connection between Hester and Chanelle Pickett, another trans woman of color from Massachusetts who was murdered under similar circumstances a few years prior. Smith became concerned that despite Pickett's murder trial ending around when Hester was murdered, no one seemed to remember Pickett. She felt something needed to be done to remember Hester and Pickett, and all the other trans people killed each year.
Thus the seeds of the TDoR were planted. From there, the event, held each year on November 20th, spread first across the country and then around the world as a memorial for transgender and gender non-conforming people who had been killed since November 20th of the previous year. It is important to note that this number is almost always quite disproportionately and shockingly high for transgender people of color—and most particularly for transgender women of color.
In fact, according to the Human Rights Campaign, as of the time of writing, already thirty-two transgender people, and quite probably more, have been killed by violent means in the United States in 2022. These statistics are extremely hard to track. Not only does violence against transgender people often go un- or under-reported, but even when the transgender identity of a victim is clear, that identity is often ignored or erased by law enforcement authorities, families, and news outlets.
The same Human Rights Campaign source additionally reports that in 2021, they tracked a record number of violent incidents against transgender and gender non-conforming people: fifty fatalities in all. Again, that is merely the number that they could track and confirm; the real number is likely higher.
What Can You Do for the Transgender Day of Remembrance?
Given all these statistics, it is important that we use TDoR as a time to reflect in our local communities. If you are a trans person reading this, you may already be aware. Perhaps, like me, you have known some of the names from the yearly lists of the dead. They were your friends, chosen family, sisters, brothers, or non-binary siblings. You may know all too well how it could easily be you on those lists (or me). For these reasons, we must continue to remember and memorialize, and in so doing, keep those names and our memories of them alive.
If you are not trans, consider your neighbors, friends, coworkers, or family. Even if every name read from the list of the dead on TDoR is someone from outside your community—the only way we can even begin to end this violence is to start right here at home. Teach our children and our friends about how much violence and discrimination trans people face. Encourage each other to make a difference. Let that hate wither on the vine.
Change begins at home. So take the time to observe the day, and attend a TDoR gathering or vigil. Listen to each name read and hear where they were from, how old they were, and the manner of their death, and consider how each of these names is but a marker for a vibrant life now snuffed out.
For who are we as a society if we do not take care of the most vulnerable among us?
Attend a Vigil or Learn More About Who We've Lost
I would most strongly recommend, if at all possible, attending a TDoR vigil organized and led by trans folks themselves. If there isn't an event scheduled in your local community, perhaps consider holding one yourself. You can find some excellent tips on how to observe a TDoR Vigil here.
You can also find some lists of TDoR vigils in Massachusetts.
There is an easily understandable urge to downplay the Transgender Day of Remembrance or to turn away from the sadness and difficulty of the annual remembrance. All those names can begin to feel quite heavy, especially for those of us who have been to many TDoR vigils over the years.
Perhaps if we can face these hard truths and sad losses, we may find ourselves even more motivated to work to end them. The sheer devastation of it all may give us a common cause to come together. And yes, it may help us find the resiliency to persevere toward that day when, if we are lucky, our children—or our children's children—need not mourn another transgender person lost to violence, or be lost to violence themselves.
If you would like to help make a difference right now, you could consider donating to the Transgender Emergency Fund of Massachusetts. They do excellent work providing direct assistance to transgender and gender-nonconforming people in need in Massachusetts.