Rita Hester was only 34 years old when her life was violently seized by anti-transgender hatred. Not only is the gruesome image of her murder scene carved into her family’s memory, but the same transphobia that took her life persisted after her death as she was misgendered in both the police report and the press.
Nov. 20 of this year marked the 21st observance of the Transgender Day of Remembrance (TDOR). The day was originally established in 1999 by transgender advocate Gwendolyn Ann Smith, who sought to honor Hester’s memory. Now, TDOR is an annual vigil that commemorates transgender homicide victims lost each year. Binghamton University’s Q Center, which provides resources to both LGBTQ+ students and allies alike, partook in TDOR by hosting its own livestreamed vigil.
The livestream was hosted by two Q Center interns, Cait Roberts, a senior majoring in English, and Elizabeth Graff, a junior double-majoring in environmental studies and philosophy, politics and law. Together, they read the names of the 37 transgender and gender-nonconforming people killed in the United States throughout 2020: Dustin Parker. Monika Diamond. Lexi “Ebony” Sutton. Scottlynn Kelly Devore. Johanna Metzger. Nina Pop. Helle Jae O’Regan. Jayne Thompson. Tony McDade. Selena Reyes-Hernandez. Dominique “Rem’mie” Fells. Riah Milton. Brian “Egypt” Powers. Brayla Stone. Merci Mack. Shaki Peters. Bree “Nuk” Black. Summer Taylor. Marilyn Cazares. Dior H. Ova. Queasha Hardy. Aja Raquell Rhone-Spears. Kee Sam. Aerrion Burnett. Mia Green. Felycya Harris. Brooklyn Deshauna Smith. Sara Blackwood. Angel Unique and from this past Tuesday, Yunieski Carey Herrera—a 39-year-old transgender Latina—who was killed in Miami, Florida.
This year was, by multiple accounts, a record year for violence against transgender and gender-nonconforming people. According to the Human Rights Campaign (HRC), who called this “an epidemic of violence,” more transgender and gender-nonconforming people have been killed in 2020 in the United States than any year since the organization began tracking in 2013.
However, since numbers are prone to causing a sense of detachment, it’s important to resist the instinctual normalizing of violence against transgender and gender-nonconforming people. Instead, we must emphasize that each and every one of these people was just that — a person who could never be fully encapsulated by a name or string of words, let alone a statistic. Additionally, they had loved ones — whether it was the family they were born into, a family they chose or both. Their lives will be forever darkened by the anti-transgender hatred that plagues much of human society.
TDOR and Transgender Awareness Week are not the only times one should seek to educate themselves about transgender, gender-nonconforming people and the challenges they face. Transphobia comes in many shapes and sizes than merely its tragic yet easily identifiable forms, such acts of violence or murder. Refusing to respect someone’s preferred pronouns, or making anti-transgender jokes — even if they’re “just jokes” — are offensive as well.
Standing up to transphobic microaggressions is one way to combat transphobia. Another includes watching films and TV shows, reading books or consuming other forms of media that accurately depict life as a transgender or gender-nonconforming person.
In addition to the Q Center, non-collegiate organizations such as the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) have multiple resources for aspiring allies, including glossaries of certain terms, listicles featuring media created by or featuring LGBTQ+ people and more.