On Nov. 20, people all over the world will gather to remember the friends and family they’ve lost to bigotry. It is a time for people to mourn their fallen loved ones and celebrate their lives.
The International Transgender Day of Remembrance is a day set aside to honor all transfolk who have been victims of transphobic violence.
Assistant professor of sociology Alicia Walker said the annual tradition began in 1999 as a vigil specifically for an African American trans woman named Rita Hester. Hester’s murder in 1998 followed a string of transphobic murders and violence in Boston.
Walker said the city’s queer community felt her death was a sort of rallying point due to both the number of recent deaths and the egregious behavior that followed. Her case was never solved, which is a common occurrence for trans individuals. Similarly, much of the reporting on the case misgendered her and questioned her identity.
“Folks were upset that Rita had died, obviously,” Walker said, “but they were upset at the greater pattern of injustice.”
The vigil for Hester sparked similar vigils across the nation and the globe in the years that followed. Transfolk, other members of the LGBTQ community and allies now recognize the day as a time for remembering those lost and a reminder to fight for equality for the living.
The day is important for many, such as junior criminology major Alison Vance, who said it’s a day for remembering those lost to violence.
As a trans woman, Vance said she believes it shouldn’t only be about the past. People should consider what they can do to improve the future so more of these deaths can be prevented.
“It’s just about remembering those that we’ve lost and looking forward to a better future,” Vance said.
Walker said she feels representation is the main reason the Transgender Day of Remembrance is so important. While the day helps transfolk feel recognized in society, it also plays a significant role in signaling to others that there are still major problems facing the community.
She said she believes a worryingly low percentage of voters in America know a trans person. Awareness days such as this help to make these people aware of the struggles trans individuals face in getting access to health care, avoiding violence and harassment and staying out of poverty.
For those hoping to participate in the day in some way, Walker said the best thing to do would be to attend a vigil. An event where participants recognize transfolk killed in the last year is likely to help make the scope of the community’s issues more clear and impactful.
She added that making a point to tell a transgender friend you care about them might be beneficial. Another key thing for allies to remember is that it’s important to fight for trans rights every day, not just on awareness days
“This is a real thing, and these are people’s real lives,” Walker said. “These are their real lived experiences, and it’s important for folks to take time to get to know what those are, what those are like and what the struggles are and to find out how they can help.”