The Transgender Day of Remembrance
Plenary Address, November 17, 2017
Welcome all of you and thank you for being here this evening as we gather to observe the 18th annual International Transgender Day of Remembrance, a vigil to honor the memory of Rita Hester, an African American transgender woman who was found in her Allston, Massachusetts apartment, having been stabbed at least 20 times on November 28, 1998. Rushed to the hospital, she died from her injuries shortly after arriving, and the crime remains unsolved to this day. A candlelight vigil was held on December 4, 1998, with about 250 people in attendance.
The day of remembrance began with the “Remembering Our Dead” website project, created by Gwen Ann Smith in 1998, and the first day of remembrance candlelight vigil marking Ms. Hester’s death was held in San Francisco in 1999. In that spirit, this vigil is now being observed in over 200 cities in 21 countries around the world.
Today we gather to remember and honor the 27 reported deaths, all members of our community in the United States. Their ages range from 13 to 59. We also acknowledge and remember the misidentified and unreported victims of anti-trans hatred and violence who were murdered in the past 12 months, and to rededicate ourselves to ending the discrimination, bullying and intimidation that the vast majority of transgender people face…every day.
The tone of today’s vigil reflects the impact hate crimes have on the fabric of the transgender community, and the very real lives represented by the names of those who have been lost. From January of 2008 to today, over 2368 transgender and gender diverse people have been murdered around the world. 185 of those fatalities occurred in the U.S. and 5 in Canada for nothing other than being themselves. Again, these are only the reported crimes.
While the first reaction when loved ones are lost is grief, and the observances today create a space to acknowledge that grief publicly with our brothers and sisters, friends, allies, advocates and supporters.
But as much as we remember those who are no longer with us – today is also a day when we must recognize those who struggle with the many obstacles and opposition. In particular, it’s imperative that we honor and affirm the many transgender youngsters who have shown tremendous courage to become themselves, in the face of extraordinary ignorance, bigotry and discrimination.
The verbal attacks, the lies, slurs and misrepresentations go largely unchallenged, causing further animosity and fear. As a result, trans youth suffer adverse health effects from restroom restrictions that impact their academic progress now and in the future. We as a community need to do more to change this. We need to support and encourage trans youth as they help move our society forward because their presence works to create a more accepting and inclusive understanding of the scope, range and vastness of the human experience.
Today also serves as an act of defiance and a way to restore dignity in the face of ignorance and an unwillingness to listen and understand.
The argument about and the opposition for the basic human needs such as access to restroom facilities for the trans community continues unabated, serving to further isolate, dehumanize and criminalize us.
While we have become more visible, we’ve become more vulnerable, and the legal struggle to attain basic human rights has become more difficult in the past year.
Over the last decade, the names compiled for the days of remembrance have shown that transgender women of color bear the overwhelming burden of anti-transgender hostility, violence and brutality, a level of brutality that exceeds and reinforces the need to humiliate and degrade not only the victim, but the entire community and thus, force us back into hiding.
When transgender people are murdered, public outcry is often lacking, many cases are all too often ignored or go unsolved, even when the perpetrator is known to law enforcement. The criminal justice system will often blame us and label us as disposable people. Blaming the victim and allowing the perpetrators to use the trans-panic defense is the true definition of a hate crime, such as when the Boston Globe referred to Rita Hester as “a man who sported long braids and preferred women’s clothes.” The only way we can move the focus of these actions into the daylight is by drawing public attention to these crimes and increasing the demand for accountability from authorities who are quite often reluctant to acknowledge the communities they swore to protect and to serve…
because while we have become more visible, we’ve also become more vulnerable, and the legal struggle to attain basic human rights is becoming more difficult.
Today is the single most significant observance for the transgender community each year, and is much more meaningful to the community than other LGBT observances, such as Pride Day or Coming Out Day. As the most significant transgender observance of the year, it may be tempting to merge all our hopes and dreams for moving the transgender community forward into this one day.
Many of us are still challenged and confronted daily by individuals and organizations who refuse to treat us as as human beings and who instead, choose to look upon us with abhorrence and disgust, and as objects that allow them to express their hatred, fear and ignorance. Contrary to what our opponents say, we’ve never asked for special rights, we struggle for the same basic rights everyone else takes for granted, and battle for the basic dignity and respect that we as a community deserve as members of the human race.
Here are the names and images of those who were lost to us since the last Transgender Day of Remembrance…
India Monroe Age 29
Jai Bornstein Age 19
Jamie Lee Wounded Arrow Age 28
Mesha Caldwell Age 41
Symone Marie Jones Age 19
Sean Ryan Hake Age 23
JoJo Striker Age 23
Jaquarrius Holland Age 18
Keke Collier Age 24
Chyna Gibson Age 31
Ciara McEleveen Age 26
Alphonza Watson Age 38
Keene McFadden Age 26
Chay Darice Reed Age 28
Brenda Bostick Age 59
Sherrell Faulkner Age 46
Jay Griffin Age 13
Kendra Marie Adams Age 28
Ava Le’Ray Barrin Age 17
Ebony Morgan Age 28
Tee Tee Dangerfield Age 32
Gwynevere River Song Age 26
Kiwi Herring Age 30
Derricka Banner Age 26
Ally Lee Steinfeld Age 17
Kasmire Redd Age 28
Stephanie Montez Age 47
Original Paper Craft Art By M. Dante