Rita Hester was found murdered inside her apartment on November 28, 1998. Hester was transgender and also African American, her death highlighting not only the issue of transphobic murder, but also the disproportionate representation of people of colour among its victims.
Her murder is still unsolved but an international day of action known as Transgender Day of Remembrance (TDOR) is marked on November 20 each year.
Hester’s murder was preceded and followed by other high profile transphobic murders.
Marsha P Johnson, a major queer liberationist who helped lead the Stonewall riot, was found floating dead in a river in 1992. Brandon Teena was raped and murdered in 1993 — the harrowing film Boys Don’t Cry told his story.
Amanda Milan was murdered in 2001, provoking the reestablishment of the Street Trans Action Revolutionaries, first founded in 1970. All these murders fuelled the deep discontent that has culminated in the TDOR.
TDOR is important because transphobic murders do not get much publicity in the mass media. It falls to the community to shine a light on this ongoing global tragedy, to gather information and to fight back.
This year, 225 events were held around the world for TDOR, memorialising 238 people murdered over the past year. This should not be seen as the total number of victims. There have undoubtedly been many more that TDOR organisers have not been informed of.
This year’s TDOR highlighted the injustices faced by trans people in the global south. More transphobic murders were listed from Mexico and Brazil than from any other country.
TDOR has been commemorated in Australia since 2002. This year, 35 people gathered in Perth and 70 in Sydney.
Long term trans activist Sarah Jayne Marquez told the Sydney crowd that Gordon Tucky, Ronald Brown and Joanne Lillycrapp were all murdered in Australia by trans haters.
The Australian ceremonies highlighted suicides as well as murders. Trans and Aboriginal communities are still seeking justice for Veronica Baxter, who died in custody in 2009 after being held in a male prison and denied her hormones.
The Sydney event, organised by The Gender Centre, featured speeches, musical and poetry performances and a minute’s silence to remember trans people who had been murdered in a hate crime, or had suicided.
The Centre also hosted a discussion in NSW Parliament on November 22, inviting some politicians to come along. Plans have begun for next year’s event to focus on state and federal governments, demanding public housing, easier transition papers, and free operations for trans people.
The Perth event was sombre and reflective, but full of fighting spirit. Part of the ceremony was devoted to Amber Maxwell, a core activist from Equal Love WA and Socialist Alternative who committed suicide in August this year. The Perth event was poignant because Amber’s last proposal to the queer movement before she died was to hold a TDOR event in Perth this year.
The Perth event marked increasing collaboration between the trans community and marriage equality activists. Leading trans activists also spoke at the equal marriage rights rally on November 23, raising a demand for state-based anti-discrimination legislation.
The Transgender Day of Remembrance is a big achievement. Trans activists have not only survived everything that trans people go through, but are strong enough to organise their community to commemorate their dead.
As much as TDOR highlights injustices, it also demonstrates human resilience.