The Importance of the Transgender Day of Remembrance

In anticipation of this year’s Transgender Day of Remembrance, GLAAD is encouraging discussion on the importance of the gender non-conforming community and the inclusion of transgender issues in both LGBT and mainstream discourse.

The Transgender Day of Remembrance is an annual occasion that honors the memory of those who have been victims of hate crimes in the past year based on their gender or perceived gender identity or expression. It was created by author and activist Gwendolyn Ann Smith after the November 28, 1998 murder of Rita Hester, a 34-year-old African-American transgender woman from Boston, whose killer has still not been found. Since then, what began as a project called “Remembering Our Dead” has developed into a much larger-scale effort. TDOR is an international phenomenon, observed not only in the U.S. but in places as far away as the United Kingdom and Australia, and the official TDOR website continually lists the names of all the known victims of anti-transgender violence—most of whom were never given coverage by mainstream news media.

The number of people believed to have been murdered as a result of  anti-transgender bias is underreported, but still disturbingly high. A preliminary report from the group Transgender Europe revealed over 200 murders of transgender people around the world between January 2008 and June 2009. The Southern Poverty Law Center noted 27 reported murders of American transgender men and women in 21 months, throughout 2002 and most of 2003. But at the time of the report’s release, arrests had been made in only 7 — fewer than one-third — while the general “clearance rate” for murders is almost twice as high, around 60%. “The police are very slow in solving murders committed against marginalized Americans, whether they're black, Latino, gay, prostitutes or transgender,” said criminologist Jack Levin, especially when more than one of these factors is present. Bay Windows confirms that transgender women and transgender people of color face especially high levels of discrimination. Finally, the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs notes that transgender people in general face particularly violent acts.

In addition to murder, various other cases of violence, and discrimination related to gender norms and identity are also pervasive. This year, a report on employment in New York City found ongoing bias against transgender applicants, and the National Center for Transgender Equality reports that only 8 states have laws in place explicitly protecting individuals on the basis of gender identity and expression.

Even more shockingly, in Mississippi, a twelve-year-old girl was beaten up by her peers because she had a “boy’s” name, while a high school football player from the same state was thrown off his team for wearing pink cleats to celebrate Breast Cancer Awareness Month. The mother of a 5-year-old boy gained national attention after she encountered transphobia from her community for letting her son dress as a female Scooby Doo character for Halloween. Accordingly, gender assumptions and stereotypes affect both transgender and cisgender people alike.

Still, very few people understand what it means to be transgender. The GLAAD Media Reference Guide defines “transgender” as an umbrella term that encompasses many different categories of gender nonconformity, including cross-dressers, transsexual people, and other gender-variant people, who may or may not decide to alter their bodies through hormone treatment or surgery. GLAAD recently issued an updated resource on talking about transgender issues, addressing frequently asked questions on topics such as pronouns, derogatory terms, and the difference between sexual orientation and gender identity. GLAAD encourages everyone to educate themselves on these subjects and to continue supporting inclusion of the transgender community in the movement for equality.

GLAAD also encourages the LGBT community and its allies to attend memorial services and vigils in their area this weekend and to use the Transgender Day of Remembrance as an opportunity to learn more about issues facing the transgender community.

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