This year’s Trans Day of Remembrance is more grim than ever before

Every year on Nov. 20, we mark the lives lost to anti-trans violence

This year has already surpassed the record number of murders of trans and gender nonconforming people in the United States in 2020—and it’s only November. 

According to the Human Rights Campaign (HRC), at least 46 trans people have been shot or violently killed in the U.S. since the start of the year, marking 2021 as the most violent year on record since the organization started tracking these numbers in 2013. 

It’s a sobering statistic, particularly considering there’s more than a month left in the year and that number is likely to increase even more. In fact, 2021 is on pace to possibly double the number of recorded murders of trans people in 2019.

But the issue extends beyond the U.S. Research suggests that globally, a trans person is murdered every three days; Transgender Europe registered at least 375 murders worldwide between September 2020 and October 2021, a 7 percent increase from the same period in 2020. 

It’s a stark and frankly frightening reality to keep in mind as we mark the somber occasion of the Trans Day of Remembrance on Nov. 20. 

But what is the Trans Day of Remembrance and why is it so important? Here’s what you need to know about the annual day marking violence against trans, non-binary and gender nonconforming people. 

What is Trans Day of Remembrance?

Also known as the International Transgender Day of Remembrance, the Trans Day of Remembrance (TDoR) is held annually on Nov. 20. The date serves as a time to mourn and name trans and gender-diverse people murdered in the past year and bring awareness to ongoing trends in anti-trans violence.

Hundreds of events are held in cities around the world to mark TDoR, and can involve candlelit vigils, memorials and the reading of the names of trans people murdered in the previous year. 

When did the Trans Day of Remembrance start?

The Trans Day of Remembrance was founded in 1999 by a group of trans people in San Francisco. A year after the murder of Rita Hester, a Black trans woman, in Massachusetts in November 1998, the group wanted to bring awareness to anti-trans violence and memorialize Hester and other lives lost.

“It all started one night, when I spoke with a few other transgender people about the murder of Rita Hester in November 1998. I talked about how similar the death was to that of Chanelle Pickett [a Boston-area trans woman] just three years before,” Gwendolyn Ann Smith, one of the event’s founders wrote for HuffPost in 2013. 

 

“No one I spoke with then knew who Chanelle Pickett was, even though the trial of her murderer, William Palmer, had ended only months before Hester’s death. It seemed clear to me then that we were forgetting our past, and were—to paraphrase George Santayana—doomed to repeat it.”

Smith says that from its inception, the day has been about demanding justice.

“The Transgender Day of Remembrance is not an event for fundraisers and beer busts. It’s not an event we ‘celebrate.’ It is not a quick and easy one-day way for organizations to get credit for their support of the transgender community,” she wrote. “It’s not something to trot out on the 20th of November and forget about. We should be working every day for all of us, living and dead.”

Why is the Trans Day of Remembrance important? 

Today, trans people—and particularly Black and other trans women of colour—continue to face disproportionate amounts of violence. According to the HRC, trans women of colour make up four out of five anti-trans homicides in the U.S. Black trans sex workers also face the greatest danger—according to Transgender Europe’s data, 58 percent of trans people murdered in the past year were sex workers. 

By reading the names of murdered trans people, we honour their memory and ensure they are not forgotten. The HRC maintains an ongoing list of trans and gender nonconforming people who have been reported murdered in the past year, along with details about their lives and loved ones. 

The organization also notes that its annual totals of anti-trans murders are likely an underestimation—that’s because many trans people are estranged from families or don’t use their previous names, while others are misgendered and misnamed following their deaths. Many cases of missing and murdered trans people remain unsolved, and many victims are never identified. 

What can you do to mark the Trans Day of Remembrance? 

Check out an event or vigil in your local area or online, like this one hosted by The 519 in Toronto. Read up on the lives lost to anti-trans violence in the past year and know their stories. And learn how you can support efforts to stem violence against trans people in your community—whether that’s financially supporting local queer and trans groups in your area, or pushing for the passing of national legislation that would bring in more protections for trans people, like the Equality Act in the U.S. or the elimination of “trans panic” defences.

Senior editor Mel Woods is an English-speaking Vancouver-based writer and audio producer and a former associate editor with HuffPost Canada. A proud prairie queer and ranch dressing expert, their work has also appeared in Vice, Slate, the Tyee, the CBC, the Globe and Mail and the Walrus.

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