Each year, November 20th marks Transgender Day of Remembrance, when we memorialize those who have been killed as a result of transphobia. Originally organized by a small group of community activists in Massachusetts, the first Trans Day of Remembrance in 1999 was observed only in Boston and San Francisco; today, memorials and vigils are held all across the United States and internationally, from urban centers to seats of government to college campuses and beyond.
The Human Rights Campaign reports that at least 26 trans and nonbinary persons died of homicide in the U.S. and its territories this year. I stress “at least” in this reporting, as many deaths of trans and nonbinary individuals are unreported or misreported by authorities. Of the 26 known victims, fully 50% were initially misreported or deadnamed by authorities or the press. (Deadnaming is the act of referring to a transgender or non-binary person by a name they used prior to transitioning, such as their birth name.)
The history of anti-trans violence in the U.S., as in many other countries, is a long and often silenced narrative. Like many others who carry cisgender privilege, I was only introduced to transphobic-fueled murder as a phenomenon after the brutal beating, rape, and subsequent killing of Brandon Teena in Nebraska in 1993. Adaptations of the life and death of the 21-year-old transman in the films The Brandon Teena Story (1998) and Boys Don’t Cry (1999) not only exposed the public to his tragic death but also contributed to heightened conversations about anti-LGBTQ+ violence, ultimately galvanizing lobbying movements for hate crime laws in the U.S.
Thirty years after Brandon Teena’s murder, trans and nonbinary people still often live, work, and love under the shadow of violence. Trans people, particularly trans women of color, are at higher risk of experiencing all forms of interpersonal violence than cisgender individuals. Trans Day of Remembrance offers us the opportunities not only to stand with – or within – the LGBTQ+ community and grieve the loss of those who have needlessly died as a result of hate but also and importantly, to stand up to protect trans and nonbinary persons, who are often made to live with anxiety and fear for their safety simply for being their authentic selves.
We live in a time when the transgender community is more vibrant, diverse, and visible than ever before. Trans and nonbinary persons live in every community, work in every profession, and are represented in every cultural background. Alarmingly, anti-transgender backlash due to ignorance and prejudice is simultaneously and subsequently running rampant in many communities within the U.S. and in other countries, as well. Protecting the lives of trans and nonbinary folks can’t begin and end with seeking to prevent each individual act of life-threatening violence: we primarily need to come together to protect the basic human rights and dignity of all members of this community.
When any marginalized group of persons is at high risk for interpersonal violence, including murder, the problem begins long before any one act of violence is undertaken. The problem begins when ideas that suggest that someone is less deserving of equality or is less of a person due to their identity take root within a society. In recent years, anti-trans movements have perpetuated stereotypes, myths, and scientifically-unsupported rhetoric that have threatened the rights and equality of trans and nonbinary youth and adults. To fight for the safety of this community first means standing up for the individual lives in this community, including advocating for legal and social equality and pushing back against the ignorance that emboldens perpetrators of violence. Supporting this community also requires recognizing and responding to the grief and fear that are outgrowths from these non-death losses often experienced systemically through inequality.
As a suicidologist, I am also compelled to mention the often-overlooked relationship between suicide risk and the transgender community. On Transgender Day of Remembrance, in addition to those who have died due to interpersonal violence, I always privately memorialize those who have died from the intense intrapsychic pain that leads to suicide. While there is a lack of data on completed suicides for transgender individuals, we recognize that they are at higher risk in general than cisgender persons. We also know that, according to the Trevor Project, more than half of trans and non-binary youth (ages 10-24) surveyed seriously considered attempting suicide last year. There is no evidence to support erroneous suggestions that queer or trans identities inherently increase suicide risk; rather, it is understood that their suicide risk is greatly impacted by the degree of interpersonal and social support they are given, which – given the troubling times in which we live – is concerning.
On this 25th annual Transgender Day of Remembrance, I encourage you to join members of the LGBTQ+ community and their allies in memorializing those who have died as a result of violence as well as those who have died as a result of internal pain. I encourage you to acknowledge that each person’s death is not only a cause of grief for the friends and family who loved them but also a tragic loss to the vibrancy of the trans community itself. I encourage you to show the trans and nonbinary people in your life that they matter and are loved and to communicate your support for their safety and well-being. And if you do not have people in your life from within this community or recognize that there is much you don’t understand about trans identities and lives, I encourage you to seek out credible education from and about trans folks, and to question statements from others that appear to demean or diminish them.
To close, I echo the following statement shared by the Human Rights Campaign on social media on February 18:
“To our trans and nonbinary community: You matter, you exist, you’re beautiful, you’re loved, and we are here for you every day of the year. We will not give up until we’ve created a world where you can safely exist exactly as you are.”
As is customary at vigils and memorial services on this day every year, I share below the names of the 26 people known to have been killed this year to date in the U.S. and its territories due to transphobia:
Luis Angel Diaz Castro
Koko Da Doll
Chashay Ashanti Henderson
DéVonnie J’Rae Johnson
Chanell Perez Ortiz
Maria Jose Riviera