Transgender Day of Remembrance began over two decades ago, and the number of names to be remembered has grown each year, with the past few years seeing an epidemic of violence against transgender people, especially trans women of color.
Many of these murders qualify as hate crimes, but the reporting of hate crimes and the enforcement of hate crime laws are woefully inadequate. In turn, the Deep South – where transgender people face significant barriers to equality – remains a hotbed of hate against the trans community, demonstrating the intersection of bias based on sex, race and gender identity.
Today the Southern Poverty Law Center recognizes the Transgender Day of Remembrance, which honors those who have lost their lives to hate crimes and denounces the surge of violent attacks against the transgender community in recent years.
“Far too many of our transgender friends and family members are taken from us as a result of bigotry and prejudice, and there are anti-transgender hate and extremist groups whose goal it is to erase transgender people,” said Scott McCoy, interim deputy legal director for LGBTQ+ Rights and Special Litigation at the SPLC. “This day is important because it reminds us to recognize and appreciate the humanity and dignity of transgender people, and it forces us to acknowledge the hatred that confronts transgender people on a daily basis.”
Nikole Parker, director of transgender equality for Equality Florida, says that the number of murders resulting from anti-trans hate is likely higher than is known, as victims are often misnamed and misgendered.
“As a Black, trans woman, this is definitely terrifying,” Parker said. “We want to live authentically and in our truth, and the fact that we’re still being targeted is horrifying. This is a scary time, where people feel like they could kill you for just being you.”
‘I don’t want to die’
To respond to bias against the transgender community, Equality Florida and the SPLC are working in the legal, legislative and education arenas to ensure that LGBTQ+ people achieve full equality under the law and are protected from hate crime.
“There needs to be a lot more public education on how dangerous and deadly this violence is,” said Jon Harris Maurer, Equality Florida’s public policy director. “We’re actively working to provide public education around transgender rights in venues across Florida, and we’re mobilizing our work by reaching out to lawmakers to call attention to this issue.”
Even in 2021, the LGBTQ+ community and especially the transgender community, encounter discrimination in many aspects of their lives, including the education system, the immigration system, the economic and social safety net system, the health care system and the criminal justice system.
“This oppression and discrimination are compounded for many LGBTQ+ people with the intersection of sexism and racism,” McCoy said. “Discrimination is particularly acute for transgender women of color, which causes them to experience the highest rates of poverty and violence, including murder, of LGBTQ+ people and at much higher rates than the cisgender population.”
Today is a day when the violence must be recognized.
“Even though we lost these individuals, we remember who they were and how they lived,” Parker said. “I want lawmakers to see and to listen – to understand that I’m a human, too. I don’t want to die because someone doesn’t understand my identity.”
Playing on fear
As one of its initiatives, Equality Florida works with local law enforcement and prosecutors to treat hate crime victims with dignity while investigating and prosecuting their attackers.
“We train law enforcement to improve cultural competency around the LGBTQ+ community and particularly the transgender community amid this atmosphere of fear and distrust,” Maurer said. “But these aren’t one-and-done events. It’s an ongoing process of educating law enforcement, and we want those cultural competencies to be ingrained into their practice every day.”
LGBTQ+ youth, especially transgender and nonbinary youth, have become particular targets in the culture war being waged by hate groups and extremists, making them more vulnerable to hate violence.
“Opponents of equality vilify the transgender community due to misinformation that allows them to play on fear,” Maurer said. “Equality Florida is working to humanize the transgender experience by taking the lead to eliminate the ‘gay/trans panic defense,’ a legal tool that essentially shifts blame from a perpetrator of violence to an LGBTQ+ victim. Fifteen states have already banned this, but the law is still active in Florida.”
In 2009, Equality Florida helped build vital support among Florida’s representatives in Congress to pass the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act, even though a number of Florida Republicans voted against the measure. The Act added gender, sexual orientation and gender identity to the list of categories protected under the federal hate crime law.
“I think it’s incredibly important to recognize that we have protections for the LGBTQ+ community,” Maurer said. “Often our opponents will try to mark them as special rights, but we’re really just seeking equality. We want the same shot at life and happiness as everyone else does. And because there are systemic barriers, we have to turn to policy solutions in some cases to make sure we have protections.”
Shifting the narrative
The SPLC has urged the Biden administration to prioritize investigating hate crimes committed against transgender people and enforcing laws intended to protect the transgender community. And each year the SPLC lobbies the Florida Legislature to pass a bill to include gender identity and disability in the list of protected characteristics under the state’s hate crimes statute.
“All of our work to recognize transgender people, vindicate their rights and combat anti-transgender hate and extremist groups has the effect of raising awareness of and familiarity with the transgender community on the part of the general public,” McCoy said. “Such awareness leads to greater acceptance and understanding and has the effect of shifting the cultural narrative that transgender people exist and are worthy of dignity and respect.”
For Parker, today is an extremely difficult day.
“We’re mourning,” she said. “We’re losing them; they’re being shot 20 times, their eyes are being gouged out. These are real things happening to our community. This is an important day, but it’s a very tough day, because it always reminds me that no matter what I try to do, no matter how much good I try to do, someone will look at me as the enemy simply for living my truth.”
To combat the injustices and violence against the transgender community, Parker said it’s important to be a good ally.
“I always tell people to educate yourself about transgender people, to do research and challenge your friends and family,” she said. “When transgender subjects come up in conversations, I encourage people to ask others why they believe what they do. People have preconceived notions and being an ally can get them to see things differently.”
Because people play on fear and lack of understanding toward the transgender community, getting to know a transgender person and understanding their challenges can be incredibly important.
“Conversations can change the hearts and minds of others, and ultimately they can change policy for the better,” Maurer said.
As the nation remembers those lost, today serves as a reminder that the cost of complacency and inaction is much too high.
“For the SPLC, this day is also a demonstration of the intersectionality of bias and the need for solidarity among communities feeling the impact of hate,” McCoy said. “On Transgender Day of Remembrance, we say to the transgender community: We see you. We remember you. We love you. We stand with you.”
Photo above: A person holds a transgender pride flag as people gather on Christopher Street outside the Stonewall Inn for a rally to mark the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots in New York on June 28, 2019. The June 1969 riots, sparked by repeated police raids on the Stonewall Inn — a well-known gay bar in New York’s Greenwich Village — proved to be a turning point in the LGBTQ+ community’s struggle for civil rights. (Credit: Angela Weiss/AFP via Getty Images)