Saturday, November 20, 2021

A Light for the Ostracized and Despised —Transgender Day of Remembrance

Note—After public observations of Transgender Day of Remembrance were canceled due to the Coronavirus pandemic, they are returning to communities across the U.S. and the globe as violence continues to escalate against people identifying or displaying non-traditional gender identity, especially transwomen of color.  Remembrance must me matched with action.

Maybe because their names and faces get lost in the grim glut of crime reporting. Maybe because no one knew their story—or their secret.  Maybe it’s because the Guardians at the gate want to protect our tender sensibilities.  Maybe it’s because outside of “those people” no one cares.  Or maybe it’s because some see a kind of rough justice acted out on the streets and prefer to let it go on as they used to whistle-by-the-graveyard the dark at lynchings that kept Black folk in their place.

But someone must remember these Transgender people murdered every year simply because of who they are.  According to :

… a total of 369 cases of reported killings of Trans and gender-diverse people between 1st of October 2017 and 30th of September 2018, constituting an increase of 44 cases compared to last year’s update and 74 cases compared to 2016. The majority of the murders occurred in Brazil (167), Mexico (71), the United States (28), and Colombia (21), adding up to a total of 2982 reported cases in 72 countries worldwide between 1st of January 2008 and 30th of September 2018.

The actual numbers are likely higher.  There is no uniform reporting of crimes against trans and gender-diverse people ranging from those who have completed surgical reassignment, those who identify with a gender other than the one assigned at birth, those who embrace gender ambiguity, cross dressers, and drag performers who may be perceived as trans regardless of their orientation.  Many police reports identify victims only by their genitals and, especially in urban, crime plagued areas, most murders not involving children, multiple victims, white, or prominent victims are poorly covered by the press.

Levels of violence have risen in the United States but there is antidotal evidence that the general rise of intolerance and hate crimes fostered by Donald Trump, his Republican Party, and semi-hysterical right wing Evangelicals has disproportionally affected those who are identified as Transgender, especially Blacks, Latinos, and other minorities due to the double-whammy of the rise of White Nationalism.

Haters respond to none-to-subtle cues from Republican state legislators and rightwing media.  The former Presidential mal-administration tried to define transgender identity “out of existence” and erase civil rights protections for LGBTQ people.

Some state laws now narrowly defining gender as a biological, immutable condition determined by genitalia at birth, the most drastic move yet in the effort to roll back recognition and protections of transgender people under Federal civil rights law.

Street demonstrations demanding safety and justice respond to the right-wing backlash against Trans rights and escalating violence.

The Trumpist Justice Department rescinded Obama era protections for Transgender individuals in prison despite irrefutable evidence that placing prisoners in general populations based solely on birth genitalia is an open invitation to assault, rape, and even murder—precisely the outcome former Attorney General Jeff Sessions had in mind.

Meanwhile those red state legislatures worked over-time on their own attacks including ludicrous Bathroom Bills, removing protections of trans students in schools, and blocking or stripping out existing inclusion in hate crime laws.

Black Trans women are over-represented by percentage of the population among American crime victims.  Often tenuous and sometimes strained relations between activists in the Trans, Black, Gay, and feminist communities have sometimes stood in the way of common action and protest.

Gwendoyn Ann Smith founded the International Transgender Day of Remembrance in 1999.

Perhaps ironically the International Transgender Day of Remembrance had its origin with the murder of Rita Hester, transgender African-American woman murdered in Allston, Massachusetts on November 28, 1998

Like so many memorial days do, an outpouring of community grief and anger led to a candlelight vigil held the following Friday, December 4 with 250 people in attendance. 

That vigil inspired the Remembering Our Dead web project and the International Transgender Day of Remembrance.  Gwendolyn Ann Smith, a transgender graphic designer, columnist, and activist helped organize the first public vigil in honor of all victims the next year in San Francisco in November of 1999.

Since then, the observation has spread across the world.

Black and other Transwomen of Color are disproportionately targeted for violence and abuse.  In McKeesport, Pennsylvania this protest vigil was  held for  Aaliyah Denise Johnson, a 32-year-old Black trans woman and activist.

Many local, national, and international organizations now participate in and promote the Day of Remembrance.  I am proud to say that the Unitarian Universalist Association and the Side of Love Campaign have played a leading role.  Many UUA congregations include some part of their services this time of the year to the memorial.

The Unitarian Universalist Association vigorously supports Transgender rights.  Many congregations will participate in vigils, marches, and demonstrations today and/or have special worship services this Sunday.


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