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A day for reflection: Trans Day of Remembrance

As the fight for trans equality and acceptance rages on, it’s important we spend time reflecting on how far we’ve come, and those we’ve lost along the way.

For many of us, whether we’re in it or not, the LGBTQ+ community is synonymous with celebration. The very nature of Pride means that for those who aren’t ingrained or knowledgeable about the community, this party that spills into the streets is their primary source of exposure to our vibrant life. So, you’d be forgiven for thinking that all of our holidays revolve around joy, about the sheer unbridled happiness of being able to be oneself openly and without fear.

But on November 20th, we dedicate our time and attention to a more sombre day: Trans Day of Remembrance. There are no floats and no festivals, so it’s often considerably harder to get the wider population to sit up and pay attention. This day is, in many ways, the antithesis to Pride: it’s about reflection, letting oneself feel sorrow for the siblings that we’ve lost, and understanding that for all the celebrations we host and the parties that we throw, the fight for equality, access and justice persists.

It is especially poignant that we celebrate Trans Day of Remembrance this year. With the killing of Marquiisha Lawrence a few weeks ago, 2021 is officially the deadliest year on record for trans and non-binary people, as confirmed by the Human Rights Campaign Foundation, totalling 45 in 2021 so far.

So, what is Trans Day of Remembrance?

Started in 1999, by Gwendolyn Smith in honor of Rita Hester, a transgender woman who was murdered in Massachusetts, Trans Day of Remembrance reflects on being trans in today’s world and draws attention to the names and faces of those trans people who have lost their lives as a direct result of transphobia, violence, assault and abuse.

A large part of the event is coming together with members of your community and allies, and actively naming those who have died. So often trans lives are erased and eradicated from the public consciousness. They have growing, but still very little representation in the media, and because of the nature of being trans, many are not connected to their families. In this way, we ensure their memory lives on, that we carry them with us and vow to make sure that we continue the fight for trans equality into the future.

Why is it so important?

It may sound similar to a day of remembrance for victims of war or other events where people have lost their lives, but transphobia is not a singular event in history, but rather an ongoing series of tragedies. The bravery of being openly and proudly trans in today’s world cannot be overstated: the BBC reported that over the last 5 years, transphobic hate crimes have quadrupled in frequency in the UK, and increased by 20% in 2019 in the United States according to NBC. And these are just the crimes that are reported – the likely scenario is that they are sharply on the rise, and we must remain vigilant in keeping an eye out for them, and calling them out wherever they happen, in the workplace, the community, at home or abroad.

We must also always remember the element of intersectionality that comes with being trans: when one is black and trans, or a member of a minority ethnic group and trans, or working class and trans, or a parent and trans; the difficulty in coming out is overlaid with additional issues like racism, classism, or navigating a potentially difficult family situation. Plus, people may struggle to access or afford life-saving medical procedures that affirm their gender and provide respite from the gender dysphoria they may feel occupying their body.

What can you do?

This November 20th, keep an eye out for Transgender Day of Remembrance vigils happening in your community: they’re often celebrated at work, in schools, at faith centres or LGBTQ+ community centres.

Traditionally, candles are lit, the names are read out, and a moment of silence is observed. If you can’t get to a centre due to location, restrictions or otherwise, you can find the names in memoriam online to host your own, and educate those around you about this day.

It’s also a great day to learn about the trans community and their amazing contributions to history, culture, science, and the world at large. There’s so much amazing literature, poetry, papers and art made by trans people: use this day as a refocus on learning about this vibrant community, and celebrate the work of trans people, whether they’ve passed or they’re still with us.

Transgender Day of Remembrance is a sombre time of remembrance and reflection, but it can be a time to look ahead and to strengthen our resolve too, to not allow crimes towards our trans siblings, colleagues, friends and family to happen again, to recommit to fighting hate and bigotry in all its forms.