Trigger warning: this article contains mentions of hate violence and death.
Coming up on Nov. 20 is Transgender Day of Remembrance (TDOR), an annual observance to honor the memory of the transgender people who lost their lives to transphobia and hate violence.
It started in 1999 by transgender advocate Gwendolyn Ann Smith as a vigil to honor Rita Hester, a transwoman killed in 1998. Hester’s vigil commemorated all the other trans folks who lost their lives to violence, and created an annual tradition for trans people and their allies to remember those lost and raise awareness of the violence they face.
On Nov. 20, my community mourns the hundreds of trans people killed each year around the world. The targeted hate and violence is so frequent that the advocacy network, Transgender Europe (TGEU), created the Trans Murder Monitoring (TMM) project to collect data of reported murders of trans and gender-diverse people worldwide.
This year’s report hasn’t been released at the time of writing, but last year we lost a reported 375 trans and gender-diverse community members — a seven per cent increase from 2020, which was already a six per cent increase from 2019. Brazil, Mexico, and our neighbour, the United States, had the highest number of killings. The last murders reported in Canada were in late 2019 in Montreal and Toronto.
Of those murdered globally, 96 per cent were transwomen or transfeminine people, 58 per cent were sex workers, and people of colour made up 89 per cent of the 53 trans people murdered in the U.S. The average age of trans people murdered was 30 years old, and the youngest reported was only 13, according to the TMM 2021 data.
The report is detailed with information on how the person was found and murdered. Sometimes they are burned alive, executed by gunshots, stabbed, others are drowned or beaten, and some are dismembered. It is legitimate violence fuelled by hate.
These numbers are people. Brothers and sisters, sons and daughters, partners and parents, and friends. I dread the numbers this year, not only because the data indicates a worrying trend, but because the anti-trans rhetoric has grown incredibly loud this year in North America.
The U.S.-based Human Rights Campaign has recorded over 300 bills that directly target trans rights, gender diversity, and gender expression. The majority of the bills are targeting trans kids, like banning them from sports and accessing gender-affirming healthcare or limiting education. The U.S. has made global headlines this year for far-right politicians and their supporters attacking public library books and drag performances.
Canada is, unfortunately, influenced by happenings in the U.S., and this hate is emboldening the far-right here. Harmful language like “groomer” and “radical trans activists” is growing, aiming to smear transgender people and their allies by suggesting that they “prey upon children.” They are also portraying gender-affirming healthcare and education as child abuse, which it is not. We also now have a major federal political party leader who campaigned to the far-right crowd to get elected.
In the municipal elections in British Columbia, we saw several school board trustee candidates running on anti-trans platforms. A Christian nationalist group worked to mobilize candidates across Canada to protest SOGI 123, and it’s one of many that participated in the convoy occupations in January. There was also a new political organization endorsing candidates with far-right rhetorics.
Last year we had an anti-trans protest outside the Vancouver Art Gallery, and anti-trans stickers were placed around Walnut Grove in Langley. In 2019, the University of British Columbia hosted a transphobic speaker.
A 2020 survey from Statistics Canada found that transgender people are more likely to experience physical or sexual violence since age 15 than cisgender people in Canada. They were also more likely to experience inappropriate behaviours in public, online, and at work.
A study by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research found that transgender youth had a higher risk of reporting psychological distress, self-harm, experience a major depressive episode, suicidal ideation, and suicide attempts. The study concluded the mental health disparities faced by trans youth in Canada are considerable and underscore the need for policies and laws protecting trans people from discrimination.
This year, I encourage you to join a memorial. There are several listed each year online happening in B.C. and Canada. Do your research, have conversations with your peers and families to raise awareness. The majority of issues trans people face are around societal acceptance, and the lack of acceptance is costing people their lives.
Trans people are people too, and trans rights are human rights.