The Transgender Day of Remembrance (TDOR) began as a candlelight vigil in San Francisco in 1999, in honor of transwoman Rita Hester, who was murdered in November 1998.
Hester’s murder, like most killings of gender non-conforming individuals, remains unsolved.
Since that first vigil, TDOR events have been held all over the world every November 20th, both to memorialize each year’s victims of anti-transgender violence and to fight for respect, protection and equal rights for gender non-conforming individuals and their loved ones.
New figures released by the Trans Murder Monitoring project indicate that 265 trans people were murdered worldwide over the last twelve months, which is a nearly 20% increase from the previous year.
The actual number of bias killings of transsexual, cross-dressing and other gender non-conforming individuals is probably significantly higher, since under-reporting of hate crimes as such make accurate statistics difficult to gauge.
Most of the murders in the report took place in Brazil, followed by Mexico and the United States, including two killings in California.
This past January, 47-year-old Crain Conaway was murdered in her home in Oceanside. Later this year, 37-year-old Brandy Martell was shot to death in downtown Oakland in April. Martell’s friends believe her murder was a hate crime.
California law provides for additional prison time for bias crimes against transgender persons, as does federal law under the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act, which President Obama signed into law in October 2009.
Additionally, California–along with only fifteen other states and the District of Columbia–protects gender non-conforming individuals from some forms of discrimination in employment, housing and public accommodation.
Although no federal law explicitly protects transgender Americans from unfair workplace and housing treatment, an April 20, 2012 landmark decision by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) found that discrimination based on gender identity violates Title VII, the federal ban on sex discrimination.
The EEOC ruling is expected to have far-reaching ramifications for transgender legal protections throughout the nation.
Nevertheless, gender non-conforming persons continue to face enormous challenges.
A recent study found that transgender Americans are extremely vulnerable to discrimination, harassment and violence at all levels of our society, from healthcare providers, schools, government agencies and employers to landlords, families, businesses, police officers and prison systems.
Gender non-conforming persons suffer from almost twice the national homelessness rate; almost one fifth of the study participants reported having been homeless at some point in their lives.
Transgender Americans also struggle with double the national unemployment rate, and are four times more likely to live in extreme poverty.
Tragically, 41% of the study respondents reported at least one suicide attempt.
Virtually all of these already horrific statistics increase dramatically for transgender persons of color, especially for gender non-conforming blacks–with eight times the national poverty rate and over 20% of respondents HIV-positive–and American Indians, with a 56% attempted-suicide rate.
It is clear that much work remains to be done, both at home and abroad, to address the rights and needs of transgender individuals.
In the meantime, all those who value individual freedom and dignity are encouraged to attend a TDOR event in honor of the known and unknown gender non-conforming victims of hate crimes this past year.
Local memorials include:
Berkeley TDOR services at Starr King School for the Ministry, 2441 LeConte Ave; Tuesday, November 20, 1 pm and 7 pm.
San Francisco TDOR rally, march and ceremony starting at City Hall and finishing at City of Refuge, 1025 Howard St; Tuesday, November 20, 5:00 – 8:30 pm.
San Francisco TDOR Shabbat at Congregation Sha’ar Zahav, 290 Dolores St; Friday, November 23, 7:30 pm.
Find a remembrance event near you at transgenderdor.org, but keep in mind that remembering our dead is not enough; we must also continue to fight for the safety, respect and equality of the living.