This Wednesday, Nov. 20 was the 20th annual Trans Day of Remembrance (TDOR). A day that according to its founder, Gwendolyn Ann Smith, “seeks to highlight the losses we face due to anti-transgender bigotry and violence.” The first TDOR was a vigil honoring Rita Hester, a 35-year-old black trans woman that was stabbed 20 times in her own Massachusetts apartment in 1998. A year later, Smith organized an event that has lasted two decades and spanned the globe.
In 2010 TDOR was recognized in more than 20 countries and 185 cities. The transgender flag– with its blue pink and white bars, representing the masculine, the feminine and those outside the gender binary –is flown above government institutions across the globe. In Ontario, Canada, legislators hold a moment of silence every year, to honor the trans lives lost. But still, state and federal governments have paid little mind to the issue of hate crimes against trans people at all. And they are still dying.
In 2019, there were 22 trans people killed in confirmed hate crimes in the United States. Worldwide, the number was closer to 300. Of the 22 killed in the U.S., 20 were trans women, and 21 were black. “It’s not just that these people are trans, it is a big huge nasty tangle of systemic issues” said Rhys Spinazzola, the student coordinator of the LGBTQ+ Resource Center at Bellevue College, and a trans man himself.
These women are often pushed into the margins of society by that tangle of systemic issues, making them more vulnerable to homelessness, assault and murder. Trans women who can’t afford the costs of a transition, with hormones and sometimes surgeries, are not received by society in the same way. “Passing privilege” is the privilege of a trans person who is recognized by society at large, as the gender they identify as. Trans women that don’t meet this are put at risk of losing their job, or of violence just as they walk down the street and are recognized as different. Trans people are also often pushed put of jobs and social support systems, sometimes forcing them into sex work. This puts low-income trans women at a particular risk of violence from men and pushes them further from the institutions meant to protect them, like the police.
“It’s my opinion that you have got to create a coalition there,” said Gwendolyn Ann Smith in an interview with Vogue, “and the people who want to help have got to also address race, sexism, [and] sex workers rights.”
For many of us, taking on a whole system of oppression at the national level can seem a little daunting, “but just asking someone’s pronouns can go so far in making them feel accepted… and making them feel safe,” said Spinazzola. “This is really messy and horrifying, but we can take it one step at a time” he added “That’s why we wanted to honor people’s memories with action.” The LGBTQ+ Resource Center had a booth set up in the main courtyard Wednesday and invited BC students to join them in commemorating the deaths of the trans people killed this year. Then they asked students to help come up with real, simple ways to be an ally to the trans community.
“At noon we read the names of the people who had been killed, and for the rest of the day we wanted to think of things we could do to make everyone feel safe,” Spinazzola said. “A lot of people are eager to feel bad, and then do nothing about it.”
The leadership of the Resource Center handed out coffee and worked with students to come up with ways they can best make trans students feel safe and comfortable on campus. Students posted their promises on slips of paper around the courtyard; vowing to give trans people a platform, to ask pronouns or just to listen and learn.
Trans Day of Remembrance was a huge success according to Spinazzola and the Resource Center leadership. They made steps to expose the student body to them and their organization. The LGBTQ+ Resource Center is planning more events this year to educate BC students and empower their own community.