Making Meaning of Transgender Day of Remembrance

By NCLR Policy Assistant Jaan Williams

It was 2004, and I had volunteered for my school’s Queer Straight Alliance to type the individual names of transgender women and men who had been murdered on cards for Transgender Day of Remembrance.

I sat in the computer lab at school, silently typing the name of each person, where they died, details of their murders, and learning with each key stroke about the violence that claimed their lives and how unsafe it is for trans people to simply exist.

The following summer, I realized, I too was transgender, setting off a stream of emotions that were far from the joy and relief I should have experienced in finally understanding who I was. Instead, at that moment, I flashed back to the names of the women and men I had silently typed the year before, recalling the ways they had been killed. In that moment, all I understood was fear. I shook with sobs, tears rolling down my face, as I thought about what my life could be as a trans man.

It’s been five years since I began to transition. I pass now, and look male enough that most people don’t notice me on the street. But I still fear for myself, my friends, and countless others. And I can’t ever shake the feelings that I had when I first realized I was trans, or stop thinking about the countless women and men who lost their lives simply for being who they were.

According to a 2009 study conducted by the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs (NCAVP), 40 percent of hate murders committed against members of the LGBT community were against trans women of color. I cannot be content with the relative safety that I am afforded while knowing that trans women of color in my community are at such high risk of being targeted for violence.

Transgender Day of Remembrance, set for Saturday, November 20, is a day of remembering, of bearing witness, of not forgetting the names of the women and men who died, of demanding an end to the violence. This Saturday, I’ll remember Tyli’a “NaNa Boo” Mack, a trans person murdered in Washington D.C. after I moved here in 2009, and the first for whom I attended a memorial service.

If hate violence stems from a belief that some lives don’t matter, remembering those lives proves unequivocally that they do. We remember them because they were—and are—a part of us and our community, and because their lives run parallel to our own.

Someday, I hope that there will no more names to add to the list of women and men who we’ll remember on Saturday. But until that day, I’ll work to end the violence against our community.

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