Transgender Day of Remembrance

Each year people hold vigils on or near the anniversary of Rita Hester's murder, to remember transgender people who have died at the hands of prejudice and hate.

Feature by Alma Cork | 12 Nov 2006

On November 20 people across the world will commemorate the 8th International Transgender Day of Remembrance (TDoR). The day is organised to remember those who have lost their lives as the result of anti-transgender hate crime, and was originally motivated by the murder of Rita Hester. An out transgender woman living in Boston, Massachusetts, she was known for her lively and outgoing nature. Completely secure with herself, she moved between straight and queer communities with ease and was well known and liked in both. On the evening of November 28 1998 she was found in her apartment with multiple stab wounds. She was declared dead on arrival at the hospital and her killer has never been found. Her death inspired a web project known as Remembering Our Dead, which documents murders of transgender people across the world, and a year later in November 1999 the International TDoR was started in San Francisco by Gwendolyn Ann Smith. The day is marked by candlelit vigils across the globe, held in memory of Rita and others like her who have been murdered due to transgender prejudice or hatred. The TDoR now occurs internationally in cities from the Philippines to Australia to the Netherlands, with over 300 separate locations holding vigils last year.

Each year more names are added to the list of victims of transgender hate crime. Two well-known names are Brandon Teena, who was raped and later murdered in 1993 after local sheriffs dismissed allegations against his rapists, and Gwen Araujo, who was beaten at length and eventually buried in a shallow grave in 2002. This year even more people are being remembered. They include Gisberta, a Brazilian immigrant living in Portugal who, on February 19, was tied up and tortured for three days by teenage boys, before finally being thrown into a pit on the construction site where she stayed. Some of those being remembered are unidentified, such as the person wearing woman's clothes who was beaten to death with a garden hoe in Northridge, California in November 2005, or the transgender woman who was shot in Phoenix, Arizona in March 2006. Others still were apparently killed by those whom you would have expected to be protecting them, such as Paulina Mendes, who, according to eyewitnesses, was gunned down by police in Guatemala City on the 18th of December 2005.

In Guatemala City grassroots efforts are taking place to counter anti-transgender hate crimes and murders. A group of transgender sex workers, known as the Queens of the Night Collective, have organised to speak out against the lack of jobs, health, education and security for LGBT people in the country. On the streets of Guatemala City being transgender is dangerous, with at least 17 reported killings since 2001. The murder rate among transgender sex workers is seventeen times higher than the national average.

The TDoR raises awareness of the level of violence that transgender people face. As the general public becomes more educated about transgender and gender variant people, the hope is that the number of deaths resulting from transgender hate crime will dwindle to zero. In the meantime it is important to show that trans lives matter, by bringing the plight of these individuals and their families to the world's attention and by passing laws that make prosecution of anti-transgender violence mandatory. As Ethan St. Pierre, the co-ordinator of the TDoR while Gwendolyn Ann Smith is on hiatus, says, "A TDoR event can be overwhelming but it's one way to make people aware of the level of violence we face, and that such senseless acts of violence and senseless loss of life will not be tolerated by the members of our community, by friends or family members who love us. It's so important to attend one and show your support to families and friends as well as your solidarity to the community. We can't do this alone."

MCC Edinburgh, 41 George IV Bridge, Edinburgh (0131 226 1691,
LGBT Centre for Health and Wellbeing, 9 Howe Street, Edinburgh (
Transmen Scotland (
LGBT Youth Scotland (
Remembering Our Dead web project (