Metro Weekly

International Transgender Day of Remembrance commemorates those lost to violence

Annual event, first started in 1999, remembers those trans people who lost their lives to anti-trans violence or bigotry

Transgender Day of Remembrance 2015 at MCC DC - Photo: Ward Morrison
Transgender Day of Remembrance 2015 at MCC DC – Photo: Ward Morrison

Each year, Nov. 20 marks the International Transgender Day of Remembrance, when people all over the globe commemorate the lives of transgender and gender-nonconforming people who lost their lives to violence.

More than 350 transgender, gender-nonconforming, or nonbinary people have been killed this year, according to a list compiled by Transrespect versus Transphobia Worldwide, a project of TGEU, an organization focused on strengthening transgender rights in Europe and Central Asia. In tracking the number of transgender violent deaths, TGEU has documented each killing, providing horrific details of the murders, which include victims being burned alive, suffocated, stoned, or shot to death. 

Of that total number of deaths, 287 occurred in Central or South America, with 152, or 43% of all murders, occurring in Brazil, followed by Mexico, where 57 trans people were killed in an act of violence. In the United States, there have been 37 known killings of transgender people, including at least six trans individuals killed in Puerto Rico.

Lukas Berredo, the coordinator of Transrespect versus Transphobia Worldwide, told Forbes that the deaths have occurred at a time when the COVID-19 pandemic has already disproportionately impacted transgender individuals.

“The impact of COVID-19 is being felt most severely by trans people who are homeless, sex workers, disabled, migrants, refugees, asylum seekers, poor, and/or elderly,” he said. “Those communities are not only affected by the virus itself, but also by health care systems and providers, as well as by the socioeconomic and political impact of the pandemic.

“At the same time, we are noticing some governments using the pandemic as an excuse for violating human rights, with signs of a wide range of political and legal rollbacks leading towards more systemic discrimination against trans people in the world.”

Political leaders have recognized the Transgender Day of Remembrance, when vigils will be held throughout the world mourning those who lost their lives to violence. The tradition began in 1999 after Massachusetts transgender activist Gwendolyn Ann Smith organized a vigil in memory of Rita Hester, a trans woman who was fatally stabbed more than 20 times in Allston, Mass., in November 1998. Her murder remains unsolved, according to Edge Media Network.

U.S. President-elect Joe Biden issued a statement commemorating the day and promised to fight for political changes that would protect transgender people from violence and to reverse policies that actively discriminate against trans individuals.

“In so many ways, 2020 has been a year of tremendous suffering and loss. For the transgender and gender-nonconforming communities in the United States, it has also been the most violent year on record,” Biden said.

“At least 37 transgender and gender-nonconforming people have been killed this year, most of them Black and Brown transgender women. It’s intolerable,” Biden said. “On Transgender Day of Remembrance, we honor their lives and recommit to the work that remains to ensure that every transgender and gender-nonconforming person in America has the opportunity to live authentically, earn a living wage, and be treated with dignity and respect in their communities and workplaces. As part of our remembrance, we must work to end the epidemic of violence and discrimination against transgender and gender-nonconforming Americans and never repeat it.

Transgender rights are human rights,” Biden concluded. “To transgender and gender-nonconforming people across America and around the world: from the moment I am sworn in as president of the United States, know that my administration will see you, listen to you, and fight for not only your safety but also the dignity and justice you have been denied.”

See also: Virginia House votes to commemorate Nov. 20 as Transgender Day of Remembrance

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi issued her own statement commemorating the Day of Remembrance.

“On this day and always, we reaffirm our commitment to ensuring that our transgender friends, neighbors, family members and colleagues are fully seen and represented and are granted the dignity and respect that they deserve,” Pelosi said, contrasting the actions that congressional Democrats have taken to show their support for trans individuals with actions taken by the Trump administration, including passing the Equality Act and calling for a reversal of the trans military ban.

“This year, as we mark this solemn day of remembrance, the record number of transgender elected officials who have made history across the country stands as an inspiration,” Pelosi added. “These individuals are taking their rightful seat at the table, as they serve our communities and strengthen our democracy. House Democrats will continue to celebrate this progress as we act to ensure all transgender Americans have the right and the opportunity to live their truth and pursue their dreams.”

The National Center for Transgender Equality called on transgender advocates and political allies to commit to an agenda to improve the lives experiences of transgender people by ensuring they can access safe, affordable housing, be protected from discrimination, end the criminalization of survival sex work, end cash bail, and promote policies that will increase economic opportunities for transgender people.

“We must rededicate ourselves to advocating for real change and to lifting up the voices of our community,” Mara Keisling, the executive director of NCTE, said in a statement. “On this day, we remember the lives of those in our community that have been taken from us by hate-based violence, and we pledge to honor their names through our work to make the world a better, safer and fairer place.”

LGBTQ Victory Fund, which advocates for LGBTQ representation in elective office, mourned the loss of transgender individuals killed by violence.

“Each of these souls were robbed of their right to exist,” the organization said in an email sent to supporters. “In a world that far too often singles out transgender people, it is our duty to remember those lost — and do everything we can to ensure more are not claimed by violence.”

A vigil for murdered trans women Ashanti Carmon and Zoe Spears – Photo: DC Anti-Violence Project.

LGBTQ advocacy organization GLAAD also commemorated the day, holding an online vigil via Twitter touting the names and stories of those who lost their lives to anti-trans violence.

“This year has been the deadliest on record for transgender people, with at least 36 trans people killed by anti-transgender violence,” Sarah Kate Ellis, the organizations president and CEO, said in a statement. “Most of the victims were Black trans women or women of color who were beloved family members, friends, and valued members of their communities, but their lives were not protected by a culture that continues to target and villainize trans people. As we pay tribute to each of them, we continue to urge the media to call attention to this escalating epidemic of violence and continue to work toward creating a culture that supports, accepts, and values all transgender people.”

Locally, The DC Center will be live streaming a virtual vigil remembering the victims from 6:30-8:30 p.m.

Ruby Corado, a local trans activist who heads LGBTQ community center Casa Ruby — which is a sponsor of the DC Center vigil — said community members will hold a small ceremony in Dupont Circle to mark 2020 as the deadliest year on record for the trans community, both in the United States and across the globe.

“I feel that the original Transgender Day of Remembrance was a vigil to remember those who were killed and to bring visibility to those murders,” Corado told Metro Weekly. “But through the years, it’s become a political event. So we’re just going to bring back the spirit of what it was meant to be.”

NMAC, the HIV/AIDS advocacy group that focuses on the disease’s impact on communities of color, created a music video tribute honoring the trans individuals, most of whom were Black or Brown trans women, who were killed this year.

Titled, “But…I Survived,” the video follows three trans activists and performers — singer Mila Jam, Emmy-nominated makeup artist Deja Smith, and actress and Drag Race star Peppermint — as well as several backup dancers, holding up pictures of some of the deceased individuals, as well as signs saying “Resist,” and draping themselves in the transgender flag. 

Watch NMAC’s video below:

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