Today is Transgender Day of Remembrance. Our community began marking this day in 1999 in response to the brutal killing of Rita Hester, a Black Trans woman.
Hester was a member of the Boston LGBTQ+ community who worked locally on education around trans issues and nurtured many of the city’s LGBTQ+ youth. She was killed in her home on November 28, 1998, a few days shy of her 35th birthday. Twenty-two years later, her murder has not been solved.
On the first anniversary of Hester’s death, trans advocate Gwendolyn Ann Smith organised a vigil to commemorate Hester and all transgender people lost to violence since her death. That vigil began the tradition that is Transgender Day of Remembrance.
“When the Transgender Day of Remembrance first began, trans people were nameless victims in many cases,” Smith wrote in 2014 for The Advocate. “Our killers would do their best to erase our existence from the world. And law enforcement, the media, and others would continue the job.”
Researchers have documented 350 homicides of trans and gender-diverse people around the world from October 1, 2019, through September 30 of this year have been brutally killed.
That’s a 6 percent increase from the same period a year earlier, and the researchers have recorded 3,664 homicides since the effort began in 2008. The yearly total has gradually increased since then.
This number is likely higher; victims are, to this day, often misgendered in local police statements and media reports, which can delay awareness of deadly incidents.
Trans women or those who identify as transfeminine made up 98 percent of the victims in the 2020 report. Eighty-two percent of the deaths were in Central or South America, and 43 percent in one country in that region, Brazil. Sixty-two percent of those killed were known to be sex workers.
The majority of these victims, like Hester, were Black transgender women living at the intersection of racism, homophobia, and transphobia.
“Behind the statistical representation of numbers and percentages, there are people whose lives we value and who we, as societies, failed to protect,” the release says. The group blames social stigma and criminalisation of sex work for exposing trans sex workers to exploitation and violence, while adding that the COVID-19 pandemic has put the lives of trans people at even greater risk, especially the young, the poor, sex workers, migrants, and people of colour. Racism and police brutality are contributing factors as well.
“At the same time, those groups are repeatedly silenced and underrepresented within our communities and societies,” the release concludes. “Although COVID-19 affects us all, social differences and inequalities are deepened by the pandemic, emphasising gaps in lack of legislation and systemic protection of trans and gender-diverse people.”
We must do better by continuing to condemn all acts of violence against transgender people. Vigils and celebrations will look different this year due to the pandemic. Nonetheless, today we pause to recognise the lives of those we have lost.
The following organizations are fighting for that change.