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Our Transgender Heroes: Remembering Those Who Have Paved The Way

Today is national Transgender Day of Remembrance, which allows an opportunity for communities to come together and mark the passing of transgender  individuals — or those perceived to be transgender — who have been murdered because of hate.

To honor the lives of transgender and gender nonconforming people, we’ve compiled a list of a few well-known transgender heroes, both alive and dead, who have helped pave the way for awareness of trans issues and bring about change.

Christine Jorgensen

Christine Jorgensen was an American trans woman and the first person to become widely known in the United States for having sex reassignment surgery in 1951. After her surgery she became an outspoken advocate for transgender people.

Chaz Bono

Chaz Bono is an LGBT activist and the child of entertainers Sonny and Cher. Between 2008 and 2010, Bono underwent sex reassignment surgery. A documentary on his experience, Becoming Chaz, was screened at the 2011 Sundance Film Festival and broadcast on OWN.

Laverne Cox

Laverne Cox is an actress and transgender activist. She became widely known after appearing in 13 episodes of the Netflix series Orange is the New Black, playing a transgender woman in prison for credit card fraud.

Renée Richards

Renée Richards is a former professional tennis player. In 1975, she underwent sex reassignment surgery. She was denied entry into the 1976 U.S. Open by the United States Tennis Association, citing an unprecedented women-born-women policy. In a landmark case, Richards challenged the ban, and the New York Supreme Court ruled in her favor in 1977.

Brandon Teena

Brandon Teena was a trans man who was raped and murdered at 21 years old in Humboldt, Nebraska in 1993. His story was the subject of the Academy Award-winning 1999 film Boys Don’t Cry.

Chelsea Manning

Chelsea Elizabeth Manning is a United States Army soldier who was convicted of violations of the Espionage Act and other offenses in July 2013, after releasing classified documents to the public. The day after her sentencing, Manning came out as a trans woman, saying she would now like to be referred to as Chelsea and that she desired to begin hormone replacement therapy.

Lana Wachowski

Lana Wachowski is, in partnership with her brother Andy, a screenwriter, director and producer most popular for their film The Matrix. Lana began transitioning from male to female in the early 2000s, but didn’t make her first public appearance as a female until July 2012. She is the first major Hollywood director to come out as transgender.

Robert Eads

Robert Eads was a trans man whose life and death was the subject of the award-winning documentary Southern Comfort. Eads transitioned later in life and as such it was deemed unadvisable to seek surgical sex assignment to male genitalia. In 1996, he was diagnosed with ovarian cancer, which could have been avoided had doctors allowed him to have a hysterectomy and oophorectomy. He died in 1999.

Jenna Talackova

Jenna Talackova gained widespread media attention in 2012 when she successfully waged a legal battle to be allowed to compete in the Miss Universe Canada after being initially disqualified for being a trans woman. She won the case and was allowed to compete, eventually making it into the Top 12 of the competition.