Honoring Transgender lives lost to violence


Members of Tarleton’s GSA hosting a tabling event for recruitment on Oct. 22, 2020 outside of the Barry B. Thompson Student Center. information can be found on their Facebook page @tarleton.gsa or on their Twitter @tarletongsa

On Nov. 20, Tarleton State University’s Gay Straight Alliance, will be holding a vigil to honor the transgender people whose lives have been taken by acts of anti-transgender violence. As of now, Tarleton’s GSA is not sure where the vigil will be held, but it is expected to be in Heritage Park at 5 p.m. Tarleton’s GSA is looking for volunteers to read the names of these victims.

The history of Transgender Day of Remembrance started in 1998, after the murder of Rita Hester, a transgender woman living in Boston, MA. Following Rita’s death, in 1999, Gwendolyn Ann Smith founded Transgender Day of Remembrance to honor and remember the many transgender people who have lost their lives to anti-transgender violence.

“Transgender Day of Remembrance seeks to highlight the losses we face due to anti-transgender bigotry and violence. I am no stranger to the need to fight for our rights, and the right to simply exist is first and foremost. With so many seeking to erase transgender people sometimes in the most brutal ways possible it is vitally important that those we lose are remembered, and that we continue to fight for justice,” Transgender Day of Remembrance founder, Gwendolyn Ann Smith said.

Sadly, this year has already seen the violent murders of 34 transgender or gender nonconforming people in the United States. Most of these murders being of African American or Latinx transgender women. This is why it’s important to observe Transgender Day of Remembrance.

Nov. 20 has also become the host of another important observation, Transgender Day of Resilience. Transgender Day of Resilience is an annual celebration with the purpose to uplift the spirits of the transgender community. Student Specialist at Tarleton’s Office of Diversity, Inclusion and International Programs (ODIIP), Emily VanKirk explained the purpose and difference between these two observations.

“Transgender Day of Remembrance was started after the still unsolved murder of Rita Hester. Her case got barely any attention and she was mis gendered repeatedly in the media – some people find a lot of satisfaction participating in Transgender Day of Remembrance, but some people… I’m trying to choose my words carefully; some people need to find a way to move forward after this hard observation. That’s where Transgender Day of Resilience comes in. It’s a movement of empowerment,” VanKirk said.

Even though Transgender Day of Remembrance is a somber event, its importance is obvious. To VanKirk, participating in this observation provides a space for a reality that is often easily forgotten.

“I’m non-binary meaning I don’t identify with gender as a concept, so it’s important for me as a member of the trans community to take the time to recognize those that we’ve lost. But as someone who develops the community for students it’s important for me to recognize dates like this because it’s not always easy to hold space for difficult times, but having those spaces allows us time to expel that negativity and express that sorrow,” VanKirk said.

This event is also an avenue for education. Nicolas Williams, the president of Tarleton Gay Straight Alliance, expressed that by seeing the numbers it shows that there is still a lot of work to be done.

“As someone in the transgender community, Transgender Day of Remembrance means a lot to me in a couple of different ways. Not only does it give me a chance to honor and remember those that have left us through horrific ways, but it also lets me know that there is a lot of work to be done to educate and inform. By having Transgender Day of Remembrance, it allows us to recognize and show what is happening to our community and how it is affecting others,” Williams said. “This event is very emotional for me because this list should not exist, no transgender people should be subjected to these kinds of torments for wanting to just live as who they are, so I help and do this to make sure they are still seen and heard, not only in life but death as well.”

Needing change is something that everyone can agree on. Cheyeanne Schachterle, a junior social work major and treasurer of Tarleton’s Gay Straight Alliance expresses that by remembering those that have been lost we are allowing ourselves to hope for change.

“Remembering and giving thought to those who have lost their lives in the past year, especially since people don’t always want to talk about it, is important. Reading those names and hearing their stories opens up a little place in your heart. I still think about some of the people I spoke about last year it’s a reminder that unless something changes the numbers are still going to rise,” Schachterle said.

Transgender Day of Remembrance also humanizes these victims by putting a face and story to the names you normally only hear in police reports. Prejudice against queer people is a problem in every community. Majesty Wilson, the Events and Fundraising Chair, for Tarleton’s Gay-Straight Alliance, explains the prejudice she sees in her own community and she hopes that by continuing to hold events like this that prejudice will disappear.

“So many trans lives are being lost on the streets and in their homes, but it is often times being swept under the rug by pro african american organizations, such as the media. The police are also using their dead names in their reports and disrespecting their identity even in such unfavorable circumstances is crazy,” Wilson said. “This day allows us to pay respects and acknowledge the struggle and legacy these people left with us during death. It also helps us place a face to the injustices of just how many trans people are dying in these streets. Being both black, a woman, and very queer I’ve always wondered why intersectionality in the black community was so unimportant.”

Being an ally is important during this tough time. There is no question that the circumstances of this year have led to an increase in hate-crime of the transgender community. If you would like to show your support, you can volunteer to read names at the vigil on Nov. 20 or observe as the audience. To do that you can email Tarleton’s Gay-Straight Alliance, [email protected]

If you would like to learn more information about Transgender Day of Remembrance you can follow Tarleton’s Gay-Straight Alliance on Facebook @tarleton.gsa or on Twitter @tarletongsa.

Transgender Day of Remembrance and Transgender Day of Resilience both serve as an important reminder of the tragedies that are caused by hate, while also giving those who need it, the time to express their sadness.