On today, Nov. 20, hundreds of thousands of people across the globe will observe the 16th annual Transgender Day of Remembrance. During this somber occasion, the public is urged to reflect on all of the transgender people whose lives have been cut short by violence, simply for living as their true selves, including two young, African American transgender women, Islan Nettles, who was beaten to death in Harlem in August of 2013, and Lateisha (Teish) Green, who was shot in Syracuse in 2008, as duly noted by the Transgender Legal Defense and Education Fund.
There is a national crisis of anti-trans violence in this country, especially among African Americans, and it seems like every day we mourn another tragic loss. Statistics on anti-transgender violence and harassment remain extremely alarming. The 2013 National Report on Hate Violence Against Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer and HIV-Affected Communities from the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs (NCAVP) revealed the disproportionate impact that deadly violence has on transgender people, and transgender women of color.
Almost 90% of all LGBTQ people murdered in 2013 were people of color. The majority of those homicide victims, 78%, were African American. The report found that transgender people were 1.5 times more likely to face threats and intimidation compared to the broader LGBT community, and that 72% of anti-LGBT homicide victims were transgender women, significantly up from 53.8% in the previous year. And more than two-thirds, or 67%, of homicide victims were transgender women of color.
Moreover, 78% of transgender children in grades K-12 reported being harassed in school, 35% physically assaulted, and 12% sexually assaulted, according to a 2011 report from the National Center for Transgender Equality and the National LGBTQ Task Force. That report showed alarming rates of violence and harassment experienced by the more than 6,000 transgender respondents across a variety of contexts, including educational settings, at work, interactions with police and family members, at homeless shelters, accessing public accommodations, and in jails and prisons.
As it stands right now, 14 states and the District of Columbia offer hate crimes protections that are inclusive of sexual orientation and gender identity. After its signing in October 2009, the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act has made it a federal hate crime to assault an individual based on actual or perceived disability, gender, sexual orientation, or gender identity. This landmark legislation both mandates that the FBI track hate crimes based on anti-transgender bias and allows the Justice Department to assist in the prosecution of local hate crimes based on gender identity.
The Transgender Day of Remembrance began in 1999 when activists held a vigil to honor Boston activist Rita Hester, a 34-year African American transgender woman who had been murdered the previous year in her apartment. Transgender advocate Gwendolyn Ann Smith organized what has grown into a worldwide commemoration of all those killed by anti-transgender violence.
In addition to the vigil, Smith launched the Transgender Day of Remembrance website. The number of those honored on the site has since grown to more than 327 people in the United States alone, with over 300 more from other countries. Organizations throughout the world—from Groupe Activiste Trans in Paris to Human Rights Commission of Tel Aviv in Israel to Diritti in Movimiento in Pescara, Italy—have since taken to recognizing the day.
“The Transgender Day of Remembrance seeks to highlight the losses we face due to anti-transgender bigotry and violence. I am no stranger to the need to fight for our rights, and the right to simply exist is first and foremost. With so many seeking to erase transgender people— sometimes in the most brutal ways possible—it is vitally important that those we lose are remembered, and that we continue to fight for justice.”
—Transgender Day of Remembrance founder Gwendolyn Ann Smith