Another Transgender Day of Remembrance (or TDOR, for short) is upon us. It occurs on Nov. 20 each year in commemoration of the murder of trans-woman Rita Hester and is our opportunity to celebrate the lives and mourn the deaths of our brothers and sisters who have been murdered during the previous year. This years observances in hundreds of locations around the country and around the world mark the 10th anniversary of this solemn event. It is more than tragic that we continue to have no lack of victims to honor - this year 30 brothers and sisters have been murdered over the past 12 months.
These things are deeply personal for many of us. Being transgender is not an easy life even under the best of circumstances but to see our brothers and sisters slaughtered simply for being themselves is something each of us can imagine happening to our friends or ourselves. The entire spiral of not being able to get or keep a job, being forced into situations that are inherently dangerous, and ultimately being murdered viciously and brutally is far too common in our community.
I sometimes don't know which emotion I feel more: sadness or anger. I've personally attended 2 vigils of people honored at TDOR and have seen the anguish of a family who has just had a loving young life brutally taken from them. I've watched as police have turned a blind eye to these brutal murders that all too often go unsolved. I've listened to cold-blooded killers refer to their victim as an "it" as they describe how they took a tender young life by bashing her head in with a fire extinguisher. It infuriates me that people in this world can treat one another like that, where someone's life is somehow less valuable or less important.
The most recent incident occurred just last week when a trans-woman and her gay brother in Syracuse, NY were lured to a party and ambushed. Someone began yelling obscenities at them in their car before going into the house, getting a rifle, and shooting through the driver's side window. Latiesha was struck in the chest and died in a pool of her own blood. Poof. Another young life gone. And for what?
Attending one of these vigils, like attending a TDOR event, can be life-changing. If you ever have an opportunity to hug a mother who has just lost a son or daughter to violent murder simply because they were being themselves - it will become personal to you, too. If you truly listen to the stories of the victims as they're read each year and you realize that each was a life, each had hopes and dreams that were brutally taken from them, it will change you. If you think about how that name being read next year could be you, or a friend, or a family member - it will change you. It makes you realize why ordinary people simply trying to live their lives become passionate activists because someone needs to speak out for these victims. Someone needs to keep their memories alive. Someone needs to make sure future generations of us don't face these same horrifying realities.
There was a time when I felt it was more than sad that the one event where the trans community comes together each year is about death. I have changed that opinion and I'll share why. Because on the outside TDOR is certainly a time to mourn. However, it is also a time to celebrate.
It is an opportunity to recognize the resiliency of the human spirit; a flame that refuses to be dimmed by those who seek to extinguish it through violence, hate, and ignorance. It is a celebration of community as a global family that these victims never knew in life comes together, bound not by genetics or by the fact that we may be transgender too, but by our humanity. It is a celebration of courage, and of authenticity, and of love. It is in that spirit that the solemn reason that we come together - to share our grief - often provides a strangely uplifting experience.
Each of us experiences the Day of Remembrance in our own way. I encourage anyone and everyone to find an event near where you live and make the effort to be there. Whether G, L, B, T, Q, ally, or simply sympathetic supporter please attend. Just know that if you do - it will change you.
The need for Federal Hate Crimes Legislation has never been more apparent, or more urgent. However, punishments won't bring these victims back. The difficult work to change our culture so that people whose sense of their gender may be different are not targeted for violence or death needs to be something each of us commits ourselves to achieve. There is no room in this world for Hate, so speaking up and speaking out does more than simply honor the memory of those who have been killed simply for being true to themselves. It saves lives.