November 20th is set aside each year as the International Transgender Day of Remembrance, a day to remember those who have been killed as the result of ignorance and transphobia — hatred, fear, or misunderstanding of those who are gender non-conforming that resulted in fatal violence. It is a day set aside to call attention to the violence, extreme discrimination and alienation towards those in society who are transgender.
Started in 1998 by Gwendolyn Ann Smith, transgender activist, as a way to memorialize Rita Hester’s violent murder in Allston, Massachusetts, the day has evolved and grown such that today it is marked internationally in more than 185 cities in 20 countries.
The statistics are horrendous, nationally and internationally. In the last 40 years more than 630 transgender and other gender non-conforming people have been killed, that we know about. That number is undoubtedly an incomplete picture.
Many of those killed were murdered by family members or were the innocent victims of deadly behavior by total strangers. Half of the total number were killed in the United States — half. A further thirteen murdered in Canada, sixteen in Mexico. These statistics do not include the many more who are daily subjected to harassment, beatings, and abuse — ostracized from work or home. This is a national and human tragedy without justification. That there is not more outrage and action is a travesty of what Canada, America and Christianity say they stand for.
Emily Eastwood , Executive Director, Lutherans Concerned, said, “There are places and times when we pause to gather, think and pray for those lives lost to violence based solely on some kind of difference. It is not only appropriate but needful that we spend such time on Transgender Day of Remembrance, remembering the victims and confronting the roots of fear based crimes and oppression on the basis of gender identity and expression. While increasing awareness about the dangers fomented by intolerance is critical, it is only a starting point for the deeper work of education and organizing needed to build a church and society which embrace and celebrate the diversity of creation rather than seeking to eliminate it.”
JamieAnn Meyers, Transgender Representative on the Board of Directors of Lutherans Concerned, said, “On a cold January night, 300 of us walked in a candlelight procession to the steps of the apartment where Krissy Bates, a transwoman, had lived and, ten days earlier, died at the hands of a murderer. Young and old, diverse in race and ethnicity, class and ability, we were straight, gender conforming, transgender, intersex, bisexual, lesbian, gay, and queer. We were there to celebrate the life and identity of Krissy and to acknowledge our grief. But, most of all, we were there to stand together against the irrational fear and hatred, the transphobia, that causes some to murder those of us whose gender identities do not conform to their expectations or the expectations of society. In front of her apartment, braced against the cold winds of January, all of us silently confronted our own fears, contemplated our own lives and futures, and resolved to do whatever we can to bring an end to transphobia. We continue to gather as a community every November 20, the International Transgender Day of Remembrance, to celebrate those among us who are killed each year by people who still harbor fear and hatred of transgender persons. Let us pray that the work that we do to educate and help others understand transgender identities will someday bring an end to fear and hatred at the root of transphobia. And let us pray that all of us can follow the example of Christ in loving, accepting and welcoming all people.”
There are encouraging signs in society: the recent decisions by the IRS to allow federal income tax deductions for transition-related medical costs and by the Veterans Administration to intentionally provide respectful delivery of healthcare to transgender and intersex veterans, and the research that shows that, overwhelmingly, Americans believe transgender people should have the same general rights and legal protections as other Americans and shows that two-thirds of Americans can explain what transgender means in their own words, without assistance. On November 15, the Massachusetts House of Representatives passed a bill providing civil-rights and hate-crimes protections to transgender residents , 95-58. Significant as this enactment is in the struggle for the equalities enjoyed by all other citizens, the bill’s public accommodations provision (hotels, restaurants, restrooms, locker rooms, transportation, etc.) had been stripped out of an earlier version by opponents prior to passage.
But, intolerance that leads to perpetrating or condoning physical, emotional, or spiritual violence is unacceptable. We must take a visible stand for welcome, acceptance and integration of all people. Both our Christian faith and our common humanity require us to stand up and stand out in opposition to hatred, ignorance and violence, and in favor of full inclusion.