By Liz Massey, December 2017 Issue
When it comes to the LGBTQ calendar, Nov. 20 is a significant date. Although it doesn’t have the liberating flourish of June 28, 1969 – the date that the Stonewall riots started – Nov. 20 has come to be recognized as the Transgender Day of Remembrance (TDOR), an annual observance trans individuals and their allies gather to honor those lost to violence due to their gender identity during the previous 12 months.
Gwendolyn Ann Smith created TDOR in 1998 as a way to honor the memory of Rita Hester, a transgender woman who was killed that year. When asked why she inaugurated TDOR, Smith asserted, “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.”
The Transgender Day of Remembrance has different meanings for each person who attends a public event or observes the day in their own private way. Ahead of this year’s observance, we asked several LGBTQ community members to share with us what TDOR means to them, and how it influences their advocacy work.
Here are their stories.
“I’m currently the president of Trans Spectrum of Arizona (TSAZ), and I’ve been active in the community since I came out three years ago. This year’s [TDOR] will be my third such event; this year, as was true for the other two years, I have helped with staffing and organizing the event in Phoenix. Our attendance increased both years I’ve been involved, and the events were safe with no major issues.
“This event is important because people need to remember that we in the trans community are people. Losing anyone in our community is always devastating, and a huge loss. By reading through the names and recognizing each person, we are trying to humanize a senseless act of violence. Participating in the event keeps me grounded and reminds me of all that we have lost over the year.
“People who attend TDOR events can give back to the trans community by helping out where they can. It lets local trans people know they have the validation they deserve as humans. Attend gatherings and support meetings and simply find ways to help other human beings who happen to be trans. You can help by having the strength to be yourself, and realizing you have a family in this community. Please support your local organizations, so they can continue to support you.”
“I am an out and proud trans man, active in several LGBTQ organizations. I currently sit on the board of directors for Equality Arizona and I actively support the work of Trans Queer Pueblo.
“I have attended too many TDOR events – I say too many because my hope is that one day we will no longer need an annual day of remembrance to mourn and honor the lives of the trans folks that were murdered in a year. In the fall of 2000, I was a member of an organization that organized the first TDOR event at Arizona State University.
“TDOR is an important day and opportunity for trans people to come together in community. Now more than ever, it matters because of the anti-trans political climate we need to come together as a community and we need our allies to show up as well. It is critical that we honor and remember the lives of the trans folks who have been brutally murdered, because if we want to change the systems of oppression, the institutions that devalue our lives, and the individuals who foster hate in their hearts for trans folks, we must first make our lives visible and demand to be treated with dignity and respect.
“My participation in TDOR over the years has informed my understanding of all the other work that I do in the community – and vice versa. For me, even though the vigil can be profoundly sad, it is also life affirming to see so many trans folks and allies come out to gather together and say that our lives are important and that we are deserving of dignity, respect, and liberation.
“Every day is an opportunity to act for trans liberation; TDOR events are no exception. If you attend TDOR events this year, use them as an opportunity to network with trans folks, to start new conversations, to make plans to meet up with trans folks (for social reasons, to start reading groups, to make art together, to do activism), etc. Most importantly, take everything that you feel, every emotion you experience at TDOR and channel it into what you can do to make the this city, state, and nation a more open and free society for the trans kids coming out today and the trans folks of generations to come.”
“I am the coordinator of community defense and liberation for Trans Queer Pueblo, an LGBTQ organization for migrant people of color. I emigrated to Phoenix in 1989 and, as a person who has been through the detention process, I know the needs that exist for those who are detained, as well as the injustices and abuse that happen inside these detention centers specifically to trans-identified individuals.
“I will be attending this year’s [TDOR] event in Phoenix, as I have the past two years. The event has allowed me to understand that not many things have changed. There are many deaths each year, and mass incarceration and detention that is geared towards black and brown trans bodies. Each year I see the power that we have and need to have trans leadership in all aspects of life and the importance to remembering our brothers and sisters who have died trying to make this world better.
“It is important to remember that their lives were lost fighting for trans rights, and we still have a long way to go. This day is important to highlight the reality that nothing has changed, that there is a lot of work to do …”
“[TDOR] gives me the courage to continue working on stopping the criminalization of trans women and building their leadership. It is a good way to learn about the needs of our trans community and the way to support and plug in to organizations that are doing the work.”
“I am transgender man, and my partner is a transgender woman who is an entertainer. We both have been involved locally with the Human Rights Campaign, Phoenix Pride and AIDS Walk Arizona.
“I have not previously attended a TDOR event, although I have heard others’ stories through social media. I will be attending TDOR this year, because I believe it is very important to be visible in our community, and to remember those we have lost. I think it is very important to note that in 2016 the transgender women of color were primarily targeted with this violence, I hope to promote the voices of our transgender individuals of color.
“We have to cherish those individuals and their stories. They died simply for being their true selves, and this has to stop. We have to honor them by coming together and being stronger. And being that voice they no longer have.
“We must come together and pay our respects to those we have lost. Our connections promote healing from this suffering. I personally translate my feelings through art forms in writing, painting and my advocacy. Some pray, some choose spoken word expressions, make t-shirts. I look forward to seeing how others express their feelings at TDOR this year.”
“I’m a co-founder and co-chair of the Greater Yavapai County LGBTQ Community Coalition (GYCC), which provides an umbrella of support for several local LGBTQ organizations, including Faith Bridge and the Northern Arizona Gender Mentors Network, or NAZGEM, that is organizing this year’s TDOR event in Prescott.
“We need events like the [TDOR] because as a transgender person myself, I often feel like the white elephant in the room, invisible to those around me. People will Google information about the transgender community rather than ask me what it is like to be transgender… when GYCC held a TDOR event in 2015, it moved the conversation beyond ‘us’ and ‘them.’ There were more allies than transgender people there, but hearing our stories connected the hearts of our allies to the transgender community.
“The best thing that someone attending a TDOR event can do afterward is to share what they’re experiencing with others. Support for local organizations, particularly in rural areas, also is important. Advocacy work is not free and many organizations in rural areas have no outside sources of funding.”
2017 TDOR Observances
Transgender Day of Remembrance – Tucson
5:30-8:30 p.m. Nov. 16, at the University of Arizona’s Old Main Fountain, 1200 E. University Blvd. (just west of building), Tucson. bit.ly/2zBsL0j
Presented by the Southern Arizona Gender Alliance (SAGA) and UofA Pride Alliance, members of the Tucson transgender community and allies will be performing before the reading of the names, and a performance by the combined Desert Voices and Reveille choirs will follow.
Transgender Day of Remembrance – Prescott
6 p.m., Nov. 18, at Granite Peak Unitarian Universalist Congregation, 882 Sunset Ave., Prescott. az-gycc.org
Under the theme “a celebration of life,” this year’s observance of TDOR will feature speakers, performances by local/regional musicians, including Andrea Flanagan, and a candlelight vigil.
Transgender Day of Remembrance – Phoenix
6-8 p.m., Nov. 20 at the State Capitol Building, 1700 W. Washington St., Phoenix.
This year, organizers are aiming for more inclusions of trans-specific and LGBTQ organizations from around the Valley, and trans youth will read the list of those being remembered.