Transgender Day of Remembrance: Honoring and Memorializing Members of the Trans Community

For those affiliated and united with the LGBTQ+ community, Transgender Day of Remembrance, which is held on November 20 every year, serves to memorialize and honor transgender people who have been victims of anti-transgender violence. Originating in San Francisco in 1999, this day of remembrance began after a prominent member of the LGBTQ community, Rita Hester was murdered in 1998.

According to The Human Rights Foundation, 2018 has already seen 22 confirmed cases of anti-transgender related deaths in the United States. However, this list only includes murders reported by law enforcement as the outcome of hate crimes–the actual number is speculated to be higher.

This number also does not include those who passed due to self-inflicted harm. It is important to note there are many more transgender people out there who would have been included in the previous statistic, if so.

On the UM-Flint campus, a memorial will be held tomorrow in Michigan Rooms A and B inside the University Center from 4 p.m. until 6 p.m. for those to come and honor the victims of transgender violence and hate.

Heather Johnson, director of both the Women’s Educational Center and the Ellen Bommarito LGBTQ Center, believes there is an information gap between those who are a part of the LGBTQ+ community, those who are allies and those who are outside of the community altogether. This serves as another purpose of the event: to inform.

“I’m finding that even among allies and among students who are themselves a member of the community, they may not have the vocabulary or [know] how to explain and describe things,” said Johnson. “I think in general, there is a greater awareness that trans individuals exist and the people are coming forward and being more visible, even in our community.”

At the event, four students from the PRIDE club have volunteered to take turns reading aloud the names of the transgender victims of hate crimes from the past year in order to memorialize them.

A member of the UM-Flint community, a librarian named Vanessa Prygoski who had transitioned during her time of employment, passed away in March of last year. A big drive for the event, while serving to educate and honor, is also to memorialize our own member of the community. Although Johnson never had the pleasure of meeting Vanessa, she heard from many other faculty members the impact she made on campus.

“Vanessa was not only an avid supporter of Women’s Rights and of Trans rights, but I really think she brought the community along with her. Everyone she worked with, everyone that knew her really kind of went on that journey and have some very powerful stories to tell about how knowing her made them an ally,” said Johnson. “I think the gift for this certain day of remembrance is to memorialize, in a very proper and thoughtful way, the number of individuals who have been murdered or have been identified as victims of Transphobia and hatred towards the trans community. Then, also, to memorialize one of our own, Vanessa.”

For members of the LGBTQ+ community, being discriminated against is unfortunately not a foreign concept. Being a vulnerable population already, the added anti-transgender violence has made a significant impact.

“I think [transgender individuals] are the least protected and perhaps the most ostracized and the least understood. Under the Obama administration, there were some positive strides made for Transgender individuals in terms of recognition in the military, medical coverage and protections under Title VII. We have begun to see these not only be rolled back, but everything that could be done by executive order has been undone,” said Johnson. “So, I think we have this community that is already vulnerable, already feels like they have been historically attacked, being re-attacked and entrenched with more hatred.”

Inclusivity, education and honorability all make Transgender Day of Remembrance so necessary to have on campus. Including for those seeking to feel accepted or who just want to learn more, this day is meant for everyone.   

“No matter who you are, no matter how you identify, you’re welcome here, we accept and embrace you and we care about gender and sexuality broadly,” said Johnson.