by Fredrikka Joy Maxwell
Do you know that more than 434 transgender people have been killed around the world so far this year, and those are just the ones we know about? That's according to the website www.Transgenderdor.org which keeps track of such statistics. All those people will be memorialized at the Transgender Day of Remembrance as celebrated in local communities on or about November 20, 2009.
The November date was chosen to memorialize Rita Hester, whose November 28, 1998, murder in Boston sparked the Remembering Our Dead web project and a San Francisco candlelight vigil, which gave rise to the transgender day of remembrance. Because of the violent nature of Hester’s death—her assailant stabbed her in the chest 20 times and failed to steal valuable jewelery or anything else of value in her apartment—transgender persons came to see her death as a hate crime.
Matthew Shepard’s violent death was still fresh in the GLBT community’s mind when Hester was violently murdered. Shepard’s death caused an outpouring of empathy. But Hester’s death showed the media still very disrespectful as it reported her death. This disrespect touched off angry demonstrations at the Boston Herald and the Bay Window.
The news media still hasn’t learned the proper way to report the deaths of transgender persons and is still fixated on genitals. It seems their default setting is to refer to people by their birth gender even if a person wasn’t presenting or hadn’t lived as that gender for years. So the media disrespect and the ongoing hate crime deaths of transgender persons still leaves a smoldering outrage.
Aware of this situation, what can Dignity Chapters and friends and allies of transgender persons do to successfully pull off a day of remembrance? Many things.
For example, my transgender support group in Nashville, the Tennessee Vals, usually hires a venue—often one of the local Unitarian Universalist churches or the local GLBT cultural center—and holds a candlelight memorial service where the names of local victims and those on the Remembering Our Dead list are read by group members. The event usually features music and poetry, speechmaking and is often followed by a brief reception where coffee, punch, and cookies are served, and people socialize a bit before going out into the night.
My friend, Dionne Stallworth, a transgender activist and leader in Philadelphia, PA says this year her community is going to break the event in two and hold a roundtable discussion on transgender issues about midweek and later that same week will hold the actual memorial.
Transgender personality Ethan St. Pierre, out Boston way, has a few suggestions too. “You are only limited by your imagination in determining the form and scope of your day of remembrance,” said St. Pierre. He suggested candlelight vigils, performances, political rallies, and read-ins. He even suggest you can do art and photo displays.
Recognizing that putting on a day of remembrance is pretty much like other major events St. Pierre also advised planers to get a working group, reach out to all potential participants, decide on the form of the event, handle the logistical details, get the media involved, do promotion, and run the event. He also encourages those holding the event to lay the groundwork for the future.