On Trans Day of Remembrance, Honor Those We've Lost by Fighting for Justice

On TDOR, we remember the members of the trans community who tragically lost their lives. But remembering is not enough, advocates say: We must also take steps to create a better, fairer future.

by Kimberly Lawson
Nov 20 2017, 10:04pm

Photo by Brendan Smialowski via Getty

For the transgender community, 2017 has seen both huge victories and horrifying tragedy. Earlier this month, at least six transgender people won elections across the country, including Virginia’s Danica Roem, who became the first openly transgender woman to win a seat in any state house in the country. Yet under the Trump administration, legislative attacks on this community have steadily increased—including a proposed ban on transgender Americans serving in the military, which Trump announced on Twitter. In addition, 2017 is already on record for being the deadliest year for transgender individuals to date.

Today is Transgender Day of Remembrance (TDOR), which honors the lives of those who’ve fallen victim to anti-transgender violence. At least 25 people, most of them women of color, have been killed this year, according to the Human Rights Campaign. In 2016, the organization tracked the deaths of 23 transgender Americans.

Mesha Caldwell, a 41-year-old black transgender woman, was the first reported victim of 2017. She was a known hair and makeup artist in Cannon, Missouri; those who knew her growing up remembered her to Mic as beautiful and beloved. Two days later, Jamie Lee Wounded Arrow, who was described as “a proud Oglala Lakota trans woman,” was discovered murdered in her Sioux Falls, South Dakota, apartment. That same day, 23-year-old Sean Hake, a transgender man in Sharon, Pennsylvania, was shot by police responding to a call for a domestic disturbance.

The list continues: Kendra Adams —a “strong trans women,” according to her friends, whose subversive drag performances subverted stereotypes—was killed in June. Kenne McFadden, who was “super outgoing, super charismatic, friendliest person ever,” according to those who knew her, was found floating in the San Antonio River in April. Ally Steinfeld was brutally killed in September, though officials did not investigate her death as a hate crime.

Andrea Bowen, a trans activist, tells Broadly that in recent years, as more trans people are living their lives publicly, the rates of murders in this marginalized community have climbed. “Trans people are killed at rates disproportionate to their numbers in the population,” she says.

Watch now: Inside Danica Roem's Historic Victory

She suggests this “increased visibility” may play a role in the increase in violence. TDOR is not only a day of remembrance, Bowen continues: Many people recognize TDOR as Transgender Day of Remembrance and Resilience, she says, and there’s been a push in recent years to make the occasion “a day of action so that we’re taking definitive steps to stop people from being killed and improve their economic well-being.”

Raffi Freedman-Gurspan, the director of external relations at the National Center for Transgender Equality, tells Broadly that the awareness that comes with TDOR is more than “thinking about the horrible violence that’s out there.” It’s also about recognizing “the attack that is happening against us in our rights and in our livelihood. This is really a period of time where we have to recommit ourselves to working for full equality and even dignity.”

When asked what people can do to fight for justice for this community, Freedman-Gurspan says people need to be civically and socially engaged. She also talks about the importance of working to change attitudes about who trans people are by sharing their stories. “Only recently have people really shown a true interest in what it means to be transgender beyond just someone's transition. What is daily life for people? What are not only the barriers but the beautiful things that are happening?”

Earlier today, the New York City Anti-Violence Project (AVP) hosted a press conference to unveil a policy brief aimed at identifying solutions to these barriers. Among their list of recommendations: recruiting trans and gender-nonconforming teachers and school staff to address bullying and other barriers in education; offering city funding to nonprofits to help train employers and other institutions on issues that directly impact these communities; and creating shelters that specifically target trans and gender-nonconforming people. These policy updates and others are considered “urgently needed,” and advocates plan to release a longer report in 2018 to include issues that can be addressed by state government.

New York City Councilwoman Rosie Mendez, who spoke at the NYC Anti-Violence Project event, reminded the crowd why TDOR is so important. “We have so much more work to be done,” she said. “Today in a world where we have a man in the White House who attacks diversity instead of embracing it, who rescinds our rights instead of expanding them, it is the trans community who is most at risk… under this federal government.”

Freedman-Gurspan agrees with this assessment. “In light of this past year, in this country, I think this is a moment where we really do need to, in many ways, honor those that we’ve lost by recommitting ourselves to fighting for justice for our community,” she says.