Two decades ago, the project that became the Transgender Day of Remembrance launched, a way to remember those lost due to anti-transgender violence.
In 1998, while trans people were still gaining prominence, they were still largely unseen by society at large, a community even more on the margins than today. We were little more than fodder for daytime talk shows and the pages of tabloids.
In many ways, the transgender community is not the same one it was back then. Today, you can see transgender people serving in the government, on the country’s favorite television shows, and within society in other ways that were unthinkable back then.
It would be tempting to ask, then, why do we still need a Transgender Day of Remembrance? Certainly, the notion of an awareness campaign for the transgender community becomes less important when everyone already is, well, aware?
Yet even with all the strides, the transgender community had made since the first Transgender Day of Remembrance, people are still dying. This year on average worldwide, more than one person died each day. Nearly two dozen of those deaths took place in the United States alone.
The majority of those killed in the United States are black trans women, and the majority of them are under 35 years in age.
The majority of those lost were misgendered and “dead named” — reported by a birth or legal name different from the one they used — by the media that reported on their death. Unsupportive family members or others buried many, often in a gender presentation that they had long since moved beyond.
Many of our murders remain unsolved, cold cases that are not treated equally law enforcement, either because of trans status, race, occupation, socioeconomic status, and so on. Usually, it is a combination of the above.
In some cases, transgender people are killed by law enforcement and other government entities. This has become a larger issue than ever in some countries that have chosen to embrace hard-line, anti-LGBTQ governments.
Many may feel that our deaths are what we deserve, deciding that our humanity is somehow less because of who and what we are. The notion of “trans panic” — the idea that a person is entitled to murder a transgender person if they thought they were somehow being tricked into a relationship with one — is still allowed in 47 of 50 states.
What’s more, transgender people need a space to grieve. Some have described Transgender Day of Remembrance as one of our community’s “sacred” days. It is one day of the year when we come together to mourn our losses and rededicate ourselves to an ongoing fight for those of us still here, and still fighting for a better, more just society.
This is why, two decades on, Transgender Day of Remembrance remains crucial for the transgender community — and this is why it continues.
Gwendolyn Smith, a writer living in Oakland, is the founder of Transgender Day of Remembrance