There’s an important day coming up, but it’s not Thanksgiving or Christmas. It’s a much more somber day, when we remember the innocent lives that have been lost this year due to violence. Nov. 20 is Transgender Day of Remembrance, when we take a day to reflect on the lives of transgender people who have been murdered simply because of who they are — and the list of those names is far, far too long.
The first Transgender Day of Remembrance was over 20 years ago. It was started by Gwendolyn Ann Smith in honor of a trans woman, Rita Hester, who was lost due to transphobic violence in 1998. It began as a vigil during which the names of all the transgender people who had been killed that year were read aloud — so they would not be forgotten. That tradition lives on, but unfortunately, that list hasn’t grown much shorter.
This year, an estimated 350 trans people were murdered worldwide, according to Forbes. That number is likely far higher. Estimates vary in the U.S., but around 28 to 31 of those people were American. And the numbers are astounding for trans women of color. Seventy-nine percent of American trans women murdered were women of color, making living in this country an even more dangerous place for communities that are already historically disenfranchised due to their race.
In Texas, there are few protections for trans people. Gender non-conforming and transgender folks are not explicitly protected by legislation in public spaces or housing. Regrettably, they are also not protected under Texas’ hate crimes legislation. Both of those facts need to change, and by advocating for the trans community, that may be possible. That advocacy shouldn’t stop on Nov. 21. Just as we would protect our cisgender friends, we need to show up for our trans friends too. My friends and my loved ones are trans, and I am concerned for their safety. They are concerned for their safety. And that shouldn’t be the case.
In regards to her founding of the day, Smith said: “Transgender Day of Remembrance seeks to highlight the losses we face due to anti-transgender bigotry and violence. I am no stranger to the need to fight for our rights, and the right to simply exist is first and foremost. With so many seeking to erase transgender people — sometimes in the most brutal ways possible — it is vitally important that those we lose are remembered, and that we continue to fight for justice.”
We cannot sit idly by while we lose friends, family, loved ones, co-workers or community members to anti-transgender bigotry. Just like Smith said, we have to make sure their lives are remembered and continue to fight for justice so we don’t have to memorialize them. Trans lives are beautiful, they are precious and they should be celebrated, not mourned. So this week, on Nov. 20, I encourage you to take a moment, whether that’s a few minutes to do some research about trans rights and history, or a few seconds of silence to honor the memory of those who we’ve lost. Those of us who are not trans, like myself, have a duty to be educated, be advocates and be allies in support of the trans community so that in future years, that list of names doesn’t exist anymore.