Each November we meet to observe the Transgender Day of Remembrance (#TDOR). This most visible event of the year for our community, observed in cities and college campuses around the world, grew out of a series of Boston-area protests against the murders of transgender persons. The last of these catalyzed a response that extended beyond our community and grows to this day.
Rita Hester, an outgoing black transwoman who had been popular in both the transgender and Allston rock-n-roll communities, was brutally stabbed to death in November of 1998. Media accounts of her death were transphobic and disrespectful, outraging the trans community as well as Rita’s many friends. A speak-out and candlelight vigil in Allston drew an unprecedented crowd of over 250. A struggle over the media’s disrespectful use of pronouns and refusal to acknowledge her gender (even in stories by Boston’s only LGBT newspaper) garnered national attention. Trans activists in San Francisco took note, calling for an annual “Day of Remembrance” that grew into this international event.
Some people ask why our community’s most visible event has to be so sorrowful. Why can’t we do something a little more positive?
The answer is that we can – and must – do both. We need this event and this focus on the continuing persecution of transgender people – especially those of color – in order to raise awareness outside of our community to the brutalities and injustices that we suffer. Everyone in our community matters and deserves to be remembered, and when this long-standing epidemic of anti-trans violence is made visible, it helps illuminate for those outside the community our pressing need for civil and human rights. But we also need to celebrate and focus on our many strengths, potentials, and accomplishments in order to build ourselves a foundation on which we can stand tall and proud of who and what we are.
Six years ago, MTPC responded to this need by calling for a Transgender Awareness Week (#TransWK) to be held during the week leading up to TDOR. Trans Awareness Week is our opportunity to hold as many different kinds of events as we wish. It is our chance to talk about transgender struggles and triumphs with ourselves and with others, to help them understand what needs to change in order to make the world safer and more fair for transgender people, and for all people hurt by the dual gender system.
We live in a time when people are waking up to the injustices and persecutions suffered by people of all kinds of difference. We’re fortunate to witness a growing public commitment to fairness and respect for transgender people. This happens because of efforts like TDOR and TAW, which must continue in order to complete our transition to a society fully respectful of individual difference, gender or otherwise. Key to our success is the creation and sustenance of communities that bring us together in mutual caring, and collaboration among our many communities. We are each unique and have many differences, but our ability to cherish one another’s inner spirit despite those differences is the light that will guide us to even better tomorrows.