Transgender Day of Remembrance
by Loftin Wilson
On November 20th, 2013, as night falls, people all over the world will gather by candlelight and read a list of names. The people on this list lived all over the world, from Istanbul to Brazil to Florida to Wisconsin. They were of all ages, some as young as thirteen. Their lives were all very different, but they are all on this list for one reason -- sometime during the last year, each of them lost their life because of anti-transgender hate violence.
People who are transgender -- people whose gender identity or gender presentation is different from or more complex than the sex they were assigned at birth -- live all over the world, in every culture and every country. We exist in every community and every walk of life. And even though data about the lives of transgender people is consistently under- and mis-reported, it is clear that people who are transgender or gender-nonconforming (and people who are perceived to be) experience violence at disproportionate, disturbing rates. One recent analysis concluded that “the majority of transgender people will experience violence in their lifetimes, and that risk for violence starts at an early age.”
Thirty-five percent of transgender students experience at least one physical assault in school while in grades K-12. Multiple studies have shown that over half of transgender people experience sexual assault during their lives. Transgender women of color are by far the most vulnerable. A recent report found that over half of all known anti-LGBTQ homicide victims in 2012 were transgender women -- and that this percentage has been steadily increasing over the past three years.
Transgender Day of Remembrance has been observed for fifteen years now, and every single year there are many new victims of violence to remember. This year, there are over 70 names to read. Many of the causes of death on the list indicate a level of hatred and brutality on the part of the murderers that is hard to comprehend. Evon Young, of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, was beaten, choked, shot, set on fire, and discarded in a dumpster. CeCe Dove, of Cleveland, Ohio, was stabbed, tied to a block of concrete, and thrown in a pond.
These acts speak to an intention on the part of the murderers to commit a violence even more total than murder. Evon and CeCe’s murderers wanted not only to kill their victims, but to erase them, to strip them of their humanity, to punish them for existing. In some cases, the perpetrators were successful: some of the victims of violence listed are nameless, their identities lost. Only the terrible circumstances of their deaths are left for us to remember them by.
As difficult as it is to face, it is important to remember that these horrific hate crimes do not take place randomly or in isolation. They occur in the context of societies -- the US included -- where transgender people experience high rates of systemic discrimination and hostility in almost every arena of life, from employment to housing to medical care to interactions with the criminal justice system. Ninety-seven percent of transgender people in a recent national survey experienced harassment or discrimination in the workplace because of their gender identity. More than one in four transgender youths are ejected from their home because of their gender identity. People who are transgender experience higher than average rates of homelessness, joblessness, HIV, domestic violence, police harassment, and sexual assault.
The possibility that this simmering cultural hostility will unexpectedly explode into hate violence can haunt transgender people even in the most mundane of situations -- using a public bathroom, going on a date, walking down the street. Transphobic hate crimes are not just random, shocking occurrences, but tragically logical outcomes of a culture that systemically dehumanizes and disrespects people who are gender-nonconforming.
Transgender Day of Remembrance is about refusing to allow this crime of dehumanization to occur in our communities. It is about honoring the dignity, value, and irreplaceability of every human life.
Of course, there are ways to fight against the marginalization and dehumanization of transgender people in our communities every day of the year. We can educate ourselves about the complexity and diversity of gender identity. We can work for inclusive policies and practices in our workplaces, governments, schools, and places of worship. And we can notice, question, and resist instances of gender-based bias and hatred as they occur around us, every day.
Every gesture of respect and inclusion -- small, slow, and difficult as each may sometimes seem -- has the power to change our culture and to save lives. Maybe, just maybe, it will mean that come next November, we will have fewer lost lives to mourn.
Transgender Day of Remembrance is Wednesday, November 20th. You are invited to attend a candlelight vigil in Raleigh at 6pm at the Capitol Building, W Morgan St & Fayetteville St, or you can find a TDOR event in your community here: http://www.transgenderdor.org/