We have so many Days, Weeks, & Months of this, that and the other, that it is easy to forget their significance to the communities they represent. LGBT History Month (USA) and Black History Month (UK) have just passed and Disability History Month will shortly begin. On this day a month ago we had the International Day of Hope and Remembrance for those affected by Hate Crime. The last week of October was Asexual Awareness Week and in the middle of it fell the Intersex Day of Awareness. This week is Transgender Awareness Week which also began with the 1996 UN established International Day of Tolerance on the 16th. Yesterday was International Men’s Day and today the long established since 1954 Universal Children’s Day. This week is also National Anti-bullying Week, attitudes that begin in the playground, can end up down the back alley, in the courtroom, and sadly sometimes in the graveyard.
Today, though, is also the Transgender Day of Remembrance, a solemn occasion remembering those who have been killed for their gender. Founded by Gwendolyn Ann Smith in 1999 to honour African-American transwoman Rita Hester, whose 1998 murder in Boston, MA kickstarted the “Remembering Our Dead” web project and a candlelight vigil attended by hundreds.
Since that time projects have monitored the news stories of trans people killed as part of hate crimes, usually when their birth gender is discovered and in several countries in association with romantic or paid for sex, a reluctant career-choice for many, to raise funds for hormones and surgery.
Transgender Europe’s Trans Murder Monitoring project reports 238 killings of trans people in the last 12 months. The majority, nearly 80%, in absolute and relative terms are in South, Central and Northern America, namely – Honduras, El Salvador, Brazil and Mexico. In Europe, it is Turkey and Italy that have seen the most deaths with 5 reported murders in each country. Furthermore, it is transwomen of colour that are most at risk of violent death.
Trans people would rather be remembered for their lives, and indeed, left to get on with them. Yet everyday is often a struggle. It is common to be “outed” or have to “come out” almost daily, through misgendering, denial of access to gendered facilities, or shunned for being weird and sufficiently different to be considered a threat to people’s children, or their sexuality.
In Britain, the greatest risk is death to self. Various studies have shown that 84% of trans have considered suicide and between 30-40% attempt it. The most high profile over the last year was trans teacher Lucy Meadows who killed herself after sustained press invasion of her private life, despite being supported in her workplace by colleagues and pupils. Another trans friend took her life this year for reasons undisclosed.
It is heartening that there has been a slow but noticeable improvement in Press reporting of trans stories – though, why we are all so newsworthy is still something of a macabre Victorian freak show. Only today the Telegraph‘s women section ran an excellent balanced and respectful piece, comparing some of the oppression to that experienced by people of colour, though with this caveat as one African transwoman says “People don’t always know that I am trans but they always know that I am black.”
The black female Telegraph columnist, Ava Vidal, ends with these words:
“I have been guilty of making stupid jokes in the past when I was too ignorant to understand the full weight behind my words of which I am deeply ashamed. Don’t sit and allow others to abuse trans people either. Challenge them. You don’t have to be personally responsible for anyone’s death, being complicit by remaining silent is bad enough. Be better. Do better. We can’t bring back the trans people that have lost their lives but we can stop the body count increasing.”