Transgender Day of Remembrance: There’s Still More Work to Do

Supermajority Education Fund

November 20, 2019

On November 20, at Transgender Day of Remembrance events all over the world, activists read aloud the names of transgender people murdered in 2019. This year the American list included at least 22 names — although the actual number may be even higher. 

Gwendolyn Ann Smith, who founded the day 20 years ago, told Supermajority News that she did so, “quite simply, because there was no community memory surrounding anti-transgender violence.” She added, “I felt there was a need to address such a violence, and the first step was to make it visible.”

The first Transgender Day of Remembrance events were held in San Francisco and Boston in November of 1999. The events stemmed from an earlier project Smith founded called “Remembering Our Dead” — a website on which Smith chronicled the victims of anti-transgender violence in response to her frustration at “a lack of community memory.” Transgender Day of Remembrance’s purpose has remained the same since its founding: to bring visibility to the trans community and the violence committed against it.

The mainstream media hasn’t entirely ignored this phenomenon. Earlier this year, 23-year-old Muhlaysia Booker was shot and killed. Her murder occurred just a month after she was initially attacked in a Dallas parking lot in April. That initial attack was filmed, went viral online, and made national headlines. The police then investigated it as a possible hate crime, but this response is still hardly the norm. Smith said that while stories like Booker’s are common, not all deaths of transgender people get the same kind of visibility. 

“Booker was, in a way, fortunate, in that she had many friends and family that are and continue to speak out,” she said. “Many of us are not so fortunate. We are kicked out of our homes, ostracized in our schools and workplaces, and treated by so many as an afterthought at best. This, coupled with a media that often doesn’t cover anti-trans murders, save for one day of the year, leads to many being underreported or ignored.”

Because the majority of the trans community rarely gets public attention, Smith said, Transgender Day of Remembrance is not the single fix to creating awareness about the real violence the community faces. Smith makes the point that “awareness, in and of itself, does not mean change.” As long as transgender people are still seen as a threat in bathrooms or in the day-to-day world in general, she said, progress won’t happen. 

“People need to know that anti-transgender violence remains an issue, especially among trans women of color,” she said. “All of us should have the right to exist, and this violence still needs to stop.”