Friday, Nov 20, 2009 3:21 PM UTC

Transgender Day of Remembrance

In 2009, over 100 people were killed because of prejudice against those who don't conform to gender norms

Today is the eleventh annual Transgender Day of Remembrance, which is set aside to memorialize people who have been killed because of anti-transgender hatred and prejudice. According to TDOR’s website, “Although not every person represented during the Day of Remembrance self-identified as transgender — that is, as a transsexual, crossdresser, or otherwise gender-variant — each was a victim of violence based on bias against transgender people.” That includes, for instance, a human rights worker, Cynthia Nicole, believed to have been killed for her work on behalf of transgender people, and Michael Hunt, murdered with his trans lover, Taysia Elzy. But the majority of victims are trans people who are members of other oppressed groups as well. Blogger Queen Emily at Questioning Transphobia, who has “misgivings about TDOR, about how productive it is, about appropriation,” writes:

Who is being mourned is the most important question of all. 160 estimated deaths of trans people, and the vast majority in Central and South America (75% according to Transgender Europe). So it seems to me that to unite all trans people under one banner ignores the specifics of death —  sex (the majority are trans women), race (Latina and black), class and occupation (sex work) are as important factors as transness.

A look at the list of those who have died since the 2008 day of remembrance — which can be found at the TDOR website or in the video below — makes that clear, along with a couple of other things. Like the number of victims of anti-transgender hatred whose names are unknown, and how extraordinarily brutal their deaths often are. According to the Human Rights Campaign, such crimes “tend to be particularly violent.” Just last week in Puerto Rico, 19-year-old Jorge Steven Lopez Mercado was decapitated, dismembered and burned by a man who thought the gay teen was a woman when he picked him up for sex, and became enraged upon learning that he was wrong. Jos at Feministing points out that we don’t know how the victim self-identified, but “Lopez Mercado’s murder reflects those of too many others killed when presenting a gender other than that assigned to them at birth. Some may not have identified as trans but all were killed because of hatred directed towards those who break the strict rules of the compulsory gender binary. They were killed because they did not conform to what someone else thought their gender should be.”

In an interview on the GLAAD blog, trans man and activist Ethan St. Pierre, whose transgender aunt Deborah Forte was murdered in 1995, says, “Transgender Day of Remembrance is a day when we come together to remember those that we’ve lost, but it also reminds us of how unsafe we are and how we are targets of violence — and that nobody is really safe from it. If you’re a trans person, especially if you’re an unemployed trans person out on the street, there’s a really good chance you’re going to lose your life. It reminds me how unsafe we are. And it reminds me how much work we have to do to educate people so that it doesn’t keep happening.”