Transgender Day of Remembrance, recognized each year on November 20th, honors the memory of transgender people lost to fatal violence and homicide. According to tracking by the Human Rights Campaign (HRC), at least 23 transgender people were killed in acts of violence in 2016. Of those lost in 2016, 95% were transgender people of color, and 85% were trans women. HRC admits that their estimation of 23 lives lost is unreliable and likely lower than the actual number, because of the numerous difficulties involved in tracking these crimes. Reasons include the fact that crimes against transgender people are often underreported and gender identities may be misidentified by the media or law enforcement.
And sadly, so far in 2017 HRC estimates that 25 transgender people have already been lost to acts of violence. Often their deaths can be directly linked back to anti-trans prejudice. And, even in cases where this direct connection cannot be made, it is often clear that the victim’s transgender identity in some way made them more at risk of being a victim of crime. For example, transgender people are much more likely to become homeless than people who are not transgender, and homelessness puts a person at a much higher risk of becoming a victim of a violent crime.
Transgender Day of Remembrance is a time to pause and honor each person, tell their story, and remember them. But scholar Sarah Lamble notes in Retelling Racialized Violence, Remaking White Innocence: The Politics of Interlocking Oppressions in Transgender Day of Remembrance:
None of us are innocent. We must envision practices of remembrance that situate our own positions within structures of power that authorize violence in the first place. Our task is to move from sympathy to responsibility, from complicity to reflexivity, from witnessing to action. It is not enough to simply honor the memory of the dead — we must transform the practices of the living.
It’s important to have discussions about violence against transgender people and talk about how we might be complicit in the circumstances of their deaths. How can we change that? What can we do to bring this number down to the only statistic that is acceptable — zero. Greater education about trans people and the issues they face is one important factor. Visibility and representation is another. As a society we can look at what programs and services, or legislation, can be enacted to better serve and protect transgender individuals. Even better, how do we build a more inclusive society where trans people are recognized as human beings worthy of equality and no longer seen as “other?” It’s only when all that happens that we may see anti-trans prejudice begin to decline, and violence against transgender people along with it.
You can read more about Transgender Day of Remembrance, find a local event or candlelight vigil, gather resources on trans issues, and learn what action you can take from the following places:
Transgender Day of Remembrance is observed each year on November 20 in memoriam of lives lost to anti-transgender violence. A 2011 report by the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Projects shows anti-LGBT hate crime murders increased 11% from 2010. Of the victims murdered, 87% were people of color, and 40% were transgender women. Transgender people of color were also 28% more likely to experience physical violence compared to people who were not transgender people of color.
This terrible violence perpetrated against transgender people is all too common and also under-reported. Transgender issues are misunderstood by many, but visibility and education brings understanding. The Trans Student Educational Resources provided this great infographic that we thought we’d share.
Some other great resources for information on Transgender issues and Transgender Day of Remembrance can be found here, as well:
International Transgender Day of Remembrance
Human Rights Campaign blog
Human Rights Campaign’s Transgender Visibility Guide
Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network (GLSEN)
National LGBTQ Task Force Blog
GLAAD’s Transgender Media and Education Program which includes Transgender 101
June is Pride Month, and we at iCarol are proud to join the celebration. Many of the helplines using iCarol software serve the LGBT community and we admire and support the work they are doing.
Recently I watched the HBO original film “The Normal Heart.” The film was adapted from a play of the same name that was written by activist and playwright Larry Kramer. The play, and film, chronicle the emergence of AIDS and creation of the Gay Men’s Health Crisis in New York City in the early 1980’s, founded by Kramer and others. In the somewhat autobiographical play, Ned Weeks (a character based on Larry Kramer), is a passionate but abrasive advocate for increased attention and funding for research towards a new and unnamed illness which we now all know would be the AIDS epidemic.
In the film the illness is rapidly spreading among the gay community and Weeks is losing one friend after another to the mysterious disease. And while people are getting sick all around him, all suffering from similar symptoms and always ending with the same tragic outcome, no one seems to care. The necessary research isn’t receiving sufficient funding, politicians turn a blind eye, and some hospital staff even refuse to go in the rooms of those with the disease. In one particularly heartbreaking scene, a young man dies and a funeral home refuses to handle his body, instead putting him in a trash bag and making the young man’s mother and partner pay them to handle his remains in such a dehumanizing way.
In another scene, founding members of the Gay Men’s Health Crisis are organizing their office space when a young woman comes in, grief stricken by the recent loss of her friend. The character of Tommy Boatwright, (played wonderfully by Jim Parsons who steals the show in many scenes) comforts her. She says she wants to do something to help and he responds, “We need a hotline director.” The character of Tommy is based on the real-life person Rodger McFarlane, who first answered that hotline in his apartment and took 100 calls the first night it was open.
In the next scenes you see this small group fielding phone calls from people asking about the unnamed disease, its symptoms, the rumors surrounding its cause, and a number of other questions that the group admittedly had few answers to at the time. Their goal was to provide people with a place they could call to receive what little facts they had about the illness and also to receive access to social workers, legal help, health care, and more.
I thought to myself about how much things have changed in the over 30 years since this group first organized. HIV/AIDS is still a very real and dangerous illness, but thanks to the work of GMHC and others, it eventually stopped being ignored by decision makers and got the funding for research that it deserved. Research led to knowledge, and over time people were educated about how it spread and how to prevent it, and there have been incredible strides in the medicine and other treatments that greatly improve one’s ability to live with the disease. There’s no doubt that we still need activism and awareness and prevention and dollars for research, but things are much better than they were 30 years ago.
And look at how much has changed for LGBT helplines. When I saw the team of people in the movie answering phones and doing the best they could to help provide information and empathy, I smiled to myself and thought, “I wonder if any of them had any idea how much things would change for the LGBT community in the following decades.” LGBT helplines started with the purpose of helping people survive this illness which no one knew anything about. The LGBT helpline has evolved so much over the years. We still have many wonderful helplines doing work on HIV/AIDS education and prevention. But helplines now also focus on bullying, discrimination, suicide prevention, and legal rights, including the right to be married. Did any of the founding fathers of the GMHC ever imagine there would be a day where so many countries would recognize same-sex marriage, including many states in the US? Where gay characters, gay couples and their children, feature prominently on TV shows and movies and we no longer even take note of this, because these lives, as they should be, are no longer seen by most as abnormal or “other”? Did they even dare dream of such things at a time when most struggled to come out, and many were dying and no one even seemed to care?
We appreciate the great work of so many LGBT helplines who serve to help people who are struggling and feeling alone, offering hope to youth who are bullied for their sexual orientation or gender identity, helping them find reasons for living when times are so hard that they feel they can’t go on. All the problems are not solved and our society still has a way to go before full equality is realized. But “The Normal Heart” serves as a reminder that times were once so dark and so scary, while now they are filled with the promise of hope and love and acceptance.