On Nov. 20, Transgender Education Advocates of Utah and a number of allied organizations observed the International Day of Transgender Remembrance for the fourth time in the state’s history. Held each November, the day memorializes people across the world murdered in acts of anti-transgender violence—acts which, as the organization behind the day contends, frequently go ignored in the media and by the majority of cisgender (non-transgender) society.
The day traces its origins to the murder of Rita Hester, a Boston trans woman stabbed to death in her apartment on Nov. 28, 1998. Hester’s murder shocked the U.S.’ transgender and allied community and sparked candlelight vigils in Boston. One year later, Hester’s friends established the Day of Remembrance in her honor.
This year, three candlelight vigils were held in Utah to observe the day—in Ogden, Springville and Salt Lake Valley, where TEA has observed Transgender Remembrance Day for four years. The third gathering drew some 60 people of all sexual orientations and gender identities to the South Valley Unitarian Universalist Society for a simple ceremony presided over by Christopher Scuderi, TEA’s Executive Director.
To explain the day to attendees, Scuderi first read a statement taken from the day’s Web site, transgenderdor.org.
“Although not every person represented during the Day of Remembrance self-identified as transgender — that is, as a transsexual, crossdresser, or otherwise gender-variant — each was a victim of violence based on bias against transgender people,” said Scuderi.
“We live in times more sensitive than ever to hatred based violence, especially since the events of September 11th,” he continued. “Yet even now, the deaths of those based on anti-transgender hatred or prejudice are largely ignored. Over the last decade, more than one person per month has died due to transgender-based hate or prejudice, regardless of any other factors in their lives. This trend shows no sign of abating.”
“In almost every case these people were brutally murdered,” Scuderi concluded, noting that those commemorated at the vigil did not include the many transgender people who die every year because they cannot access medical care that does not exclude or discriminate against them.
After those gathered had lit their candles, Scuderi read a partial list of the 143 transgender people murdered in the last year. Mostly trans women, the victims — many of whom were not known by name — came from countries including Honduras, Italy, Mexico, Russia, Serbia, Turkey, Venezuela and the United States with an alarming number of murders — some of them group slaughters — occurring in Brazil. The murder rate of transgender people across the world, Scuderi noted, was roughly two a day — a 100 percent increase since last year.
In all, 581 known murders of transgender people have taken place since 1970, according to statistics posted on the International Transgender Day of Remembrance Web site.
“We at TEA of Utah have always liked to interject a moment of light, of hope,” said Scuderi after the reading. To symbolize this hope, he asked those gathered to join him in singing “This Little Light of Mine.”
“We hope to arrive at a day where there will be no names read,” Scuderi said in conclusion. “That takes love, engagement, involvement. It’s time for us to be heard, for silence is the true crime against humanity. Allies and transgender people alike need to stand together.”
A reception, dubbed the annual TEA Party, followed the vigil, giving attendees time to discuss the service and to explore information tables put up by Equality Utah ant the Human Rights Campaign of Utah.
The evening was co-sponsored by TEA of Utah, SVUUS Social Action Council, the LGBT Public Safety Committee, the Unitarian Universalist Church of Ogden, the Provo Community United Church of Christ, Ogden OUTreach and QSaltLake.
For more information about Transgender Day of Remembrance and Remembering Our Dead, the online list of known victims of murders motivated by anti-trans bias and hatred, visit transgenderdor.org.