Trans Day of Remembrance & Resilience is dedicated to remembering and honouring transgender and nonbinary individuals who have lost their lives due to transphobic violence. It also urges recognition that the full scale, prevalence, and nature of transphobic violence is misrepresented by official statistics circulated in the media each year. The idea for the day first Trans Day of Remembrance arose in 1999, when activists Gwendolyn Ann Smith and Penni Ashe Matz, held vigils in their cities on November 20th to commemorate the deaths of Rita Hester and Chanelle Pickett – two trans women of colour who lost their lives to anti-trans violence. Alongside the two vigils, Smith also launched the website “Remembering our Dead” to record information about the deaths of trans folks and to provide the kinds of narration of trans lives that mainstream media outlets have failed to provide. Now twenty three years later, this day of remembrance is observed in 29 countries across the globe.
According to the Trans Murder Monitoring project, at least 375 trans and gender-diverse individuals were murdered worldwide in 2021 – making it the deadliest year for trans and gender-diverse people. It is estimated that around 80% of these victims were trans women of colour. Unfortunately, accurate statistics on the issues are hard to come by. In Canada specifically, there is a notable absence of data on violence and hate crimes committed against trans folks, which is in part attributable to the fact that reports of anti-trans hate crimes get collapsed into the broader category of “sex-based” hate crimes, which leads to the erasure of anti-trans experiences. The statistical murkiness is further exacerbated by the ongoing distrust of police and other authorities in queer communities.
At the same time, in an effort by the media to accurately and appropriately report on transgender victims of crime, there is a pervasive, although well-intentioned, issue of sensationalized framing that can do more harm than good. As the official numbers of people who lost their lives to transgender violence continues to grow each year, it must be remembered that acts of violence against the trans community are horrific and pervasive, and should be covered regardless of the recorded number of deaths – which in most cases is vastly underreported anyway. In tracking violence, there is nothing won and no goal is met when the victim count reaches a certain number, and framing it as such is insensitive to the seriousness of the issue. Furthermore, as the media continues to improve reporting on transgender victims of crime, it is important that a concerted effort is made to feature transgender people in stories about a variety of topics, not just violence. Transgender people are musicians, writers, siblings, teachers, accountants, neighbors, and more. Every day, remarkable transgender people accomplish feats that deserve media recognition, but sadly, go unnoticed in most cases.
Although Trans Day of Remembrance brings us together to mourn those that have died as a result of transphobic violence, we should also recognize that such violence cannot be disentangled from the hierarchies of race, gender, and class. There is no one trans experience, but trans identities remain incredibly vast and varied. Attempting to fit all trans people under one umbrella only pushes some people further to the margins, towards erasure.
As we collectively consider the violence against trans people, it is necessary to recognize these particularly lethal outcomes as just one symptom of systemic and entrenched transphobia. Anti-trans stigma shows up at home with family rejection, but can be traced further to broader political hostilities, marginalization and erasure. Anti-trans discourses have material impacts that limit the participation of trans and non-binary people in society by way of employment discrimination, workplace harassment, barriers to health care, housing discrimination, unequal policing, and much more. Each of these is then exacerbated by existing structures of racism and sexism that see Black transgender people with unemployment rates considerably greater than all transgender folks and exponentially larger than the general population. Addressing transphobic violence requires us to shift our focus to the economic and social structures that continue to push many Black, Brown, and Indigenous trans women to the margins, limiting access to not only the necessities of life, but the conditions for flourishing in life.
Trans justice therefore, is about more than raising awareness. It involves centering the leadership of trans and gender nonconforming people of color and demanding that society as a whole shift its ideas about gender and sexuality. Passing more hate crime legislation and building separate trans prisons strengthens the prison industrial complex that is already torturing Black and Indigenous trans people at epidemic rates. Advocating for hate crime legislation will not improve the lives of Black, Brown, and Indigenous trans folks. Similarly, tokenizing “trans women of color” only puts them on a pedestal without regarding their full and total complexity. This tokenizing often requires transfeminine people to be fabulous, resilient, and beautiful to get basic access to safety and dignity, instead of challenging the conditions that make their lives so precarious.
Addressing anti-trans violence is complex and would involve changes at all levels of society. That said, everyone can be an ally to trans folk. Being an ally involves listening to, empowering, elevating, advocating with and resisting alongside trans folks in the fight for justice – especially the trans folks who find themselves on the margins because of other intersectional identities like race and socioeconomic status. On November 20th, whether you are a member of the trans community or an ally, take a moment to honour the lives lost to anti-trans violence and to stand in solidarity with those who continue to fight for a more just society.
Works Cited List
Trans Day of Remembrance Vigils
Fatal Violence Against the Transgender and Gender Non-Conforming Community in 2021 – Human Rights Campaign
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