Transgender Day of Remembrance: Why We Remember

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 just three years before. Both were transgender women of color who lived in Massachusetts, were last seen alive at a neighborhood club and died in mid-November.

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.

Transgender people are those whose gender identity differs from the sex they were assigned at birth. In 1999 a handful of transgender people sought to highlight the need for awareness around anti-transgender violence, which refers to attacks against people who are perceived as transgender -- regardless of how one may personally identify. To that end, we held the first Transgender Day of Remembrance event in the Castro district of San Francisco, holding the names of those we'd lost in silent testimony.

That was 13 years ago. Today, Transgender Day of Remembrance will be presented in the United States and Canada, Australia, Poland, Russia, the Philippines, South Korea and many other locations across the Earth. The notion of remembering our dead reaches into places that those few who gathered in 1999 could hardly have envisioned.

We've seen an increase in legislation that helps prosecute those who participate in anti-transgender violence, including the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act. We've seen a much greater awareness of the issue of anti-transgender violence. We've seen successes in other battles for transgender rights.

Yet we still see anti-transgender violence. Every year, we still find ourselves with a list of people who have been violently murdered for simply being themselves.

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. 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 do we remember? We remember for Rita Hester and Chenelle Pickett. We remember for Brandon Teena, for Gwen Araujo, for Marsha P. Johnson. We remember for Deoni Jones of Baltimore, Md., killed last February. We remember for Tyrell Jackson of Florida, killed on April 4, 2012. We remember for Coko Williams, killed in Detroit on April 3. We remember for Paige Clay, killed in Chicago on April 16. We remember for Brandy Martell of Oakland, killed on April 29, 2012. We remember for Tiffany Gooden, killed in Chicago on August 14. We remember for hundreds of others killed around the world in anti-transgender murders.

This day we mourn our losses and we honor our precious dead -- tomorrow and every other day, we shall continue to fight for the living.

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