On Friday, members of the LGBT community and its allies observed Transgender Day of Remembrance with memorial and vigil services to honor the memory of transgender men and women who have been killed in acts of bigotry, prejudice, and hatred in the past year.
In many services around the world and across the region, their names will be read aloud. This year, the list is longer. The number of trans women killed in the past year is nearly double than last year, and the majority were trans women of color.
“We all know — the community, that is — that it’s way up this year,” said Mara Keisling, transgender rights activist and founding executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality.
Although every community is free to choose how to observe the Transgender Day of Remembrance in their own way, Keisling said one thing is present at every vigil.
“We must keep in mind that it’s a commemoration, not a celebration,” she said. “It’s somber. It’s very deeply meaningful to us as a people.”
Keisling, who grew up in Harrisburg and now lives in Washington, D.C., has attended several vigils across the country, from Las Vegas to Philadelphia. She remembers her hometown vigil to be particularly emotional.
It’s difficult to truly know the number of lives lost to anti-transgender violence. Keisling cited gaps in reporting, tense relationships with police, and a lack of data — even about the number of transgender people in the country — as important factors.
Still, she said, the advocacy organization works hard to fully know and reach out to the “T” members of the LGBT community.
“We’ve been keeping track and chronicling [acts of anti-transgender violence] for decades now,” she said. “This year has been especially bad, and nobody’s studying that. That’s a public health and a public safety problem.”
The Transgender Day of Remembrance has been observed worldwide since 1999, one year after the murder of Rita Hester, a trans woman of color who was a well-known LGBT community advocate in her hometown of Boston. Hester was stabbed 20 times in her apartment. Police still have not determined who killed her.
The tradition of the annual vigil service was the idea of Gwendolyn Ann Smith, a writer and activist. Smith also launched a site that lists the names and recognizes those who have died — including more than 327 from the U.S.
A New Jersey service will be held Sunday at 1:30 p.m. in the Princeton University Chapel led by Andy Cofino, program coordinator for the LGBT Center at the university.
The service is co-sponsored by the Gender Rights Advocacy Association of NJ; Princeton University—LGBT Center, Office of Religious Life, SHARE, and Women’s Center; Montclair State University Bisexual, Transgender Queer Center; Rutgers University Center for Social Justice Education and LGBT Communities; Garden State Equality; and HiTOPS.