Never Forget: Transgender Day of Remembrance and Why It’s Important

Nov 9, 2016

By Blue Montana, Transgender Program Manager

Rae’Lynn Thomas was shot by her mother’s boyfriend, James Allen Byrd, as she sat on the couch on Aug. 10 in Columbus, Ohio. After firing at her twice, her attacker — who was nearly a foot taller and 100 pounds heavier than the petite Rae’Lynn — proceeded to beat her with any heavy object handy. He often referred to her as evil and the devil. She was the 19th trans-identified individual murdered in 2016; numbers 20 and 21 would follow shortly.

In January of 2016, it’s estimated that 48 transwomen were murdered in Brazil, and that estimate is low.

Every year on November 20 we have Transgender Day of Remembrance, and I keep telling myself that one day we will no longer have the need for that day, but I’m sure unfortunately that day won’t come soon. Last year at Transgender Day of Remembrance, it was particularly difficult, as we remembered four teens in San Diego, where I was living at the time, who lost their lives due to suicide. When it came to burying and remembering youth I knew, whose families I had worked with, it forever changed not only me, but the work I focus on doing, the community around me, and the reason we need to keep having Transgender Day of Remembrance.

Transwomen of color remain, and I suspect always will remain, a particularly vulnerable sub community. They often live in places of socioeconomic barriers, such as low employment rates, discrimination in housing, social services, and employment, leaving them with little to no choices for surviving, other than turning to survival sex work. Transwomen in particular aren’t just murdered, they’re stabbed multiple times, as in the case of Dee Whigham, a 25-year-old nurse from Mississippi who was stabbed 119 times by a sailor from the U.S. Navy.

Deshawnda “Tata” Sanchez was 21 years old when she was attacked and pounded on a door for help, receiving none in Compton, Calif. She was shot to death while pleading for her life. Aniya Parker’s murder was caught on tape. She was approached on the streets of Los Angeles, shot and left for dead. Several cars drove past her and never stopped to render aid, leaving her to die on the street. Amos Beede was murdered in Burlington, Vt., at a homeless encampment where he was trying to help the less fortunate. Stories like these are not talked about as they should be. Brazil always has a super high rate of transwomen being murdered, so much so that they often buy one meal at a time because they don’t know if they’ll be alive for their next meal.

I often wonder to myself why is this happening and nothing is being done to stop it? Quite often I see transwomen being murdered twice in a week, and sadly I’m not surprised, as this just happened in Chicago. What do we as a community, or I, as an activist, have to do to get attention called to these massacres that happen every year? I don’t have the answer to that question, but I do have several thoughts that may have some clues as to ideas we can work on to stop these senseless murders.

The first thought that pops into my head is to employ us. Trans individuals are often at the bottom of the barrel when it comes to getting hired for jobs. We’re often at the very least qualified, often over-qualified for jobs that we get turned down for simply because of our transgender identity. We don’t “fit in.”

Employers are afraid they’ll lose clients if they walk in and see a trans person working there, but what it really comes down to is they don’t have the guts to do the right thing and give us the job we deserve and are qualified for. It’s easier to come up with another reason not to hire us and send us back out in to the cruel world of unemployment.

The transgender and gender non-conforming communities are in the middle of one of the biggest civil rights movements as I sit and write this article. I’m not quite sure why so many folks are under the assumption that all we have to do is work, if only it was that easy. We can’t even go to the bathroom without getting harassed, so the notion of working may seem simple, but it’s just not. The transgender community often also struggles with housing, whether it due to discrimination, or lack of the aforementioned job.

When Brandon Teena was murdered in 1993, I was a senior in high school and my world was turned upside down. I remember sneaking around to read news articles about it, watching the news when my parents weren’t around so I wouldn’t get in trouble. In the back of my head, I was scared that one day that could be me, it was my first real taste of how transgender community members are treated, and although people were upset at the situation, I saw them offer empty grievances; they were empty because they didn’t do a thing to help us change our situation. I mentioned the case of Dee Whigham earlier, who was a registered nurse, so all the education in the world and even having a good job didn’t stop her from being attacked and murdered.

The Transgender Day of Remembrance is vitally important in order to change history. It’s vitally important that we use the Transgender Day of Remembrance and every day to reflect on the disparity and violence that affects the transgender community everyday.

One of my favorite quotes, by Leo Buscaglia, says “Too often we underestimate the power of a touch, a smile, a kind word, a listening ear, an honest compliment, or the smallest act of caring, all of which have the potential to turn a life around.” Please be kind to us every day, show us a small act of kindness, a smile, a kind word. Those small things can often mean the world to us, and help lessen the pain of the constant onslaught of our community members being murdered. Be the change you wish to see, and things can start to possibly change.