November 20th is Transgender Day of Remembrance

by HRC Staff

WASHINGTON-In honor of Transgender Day of Remembrance, the Human Rights Campaign has released two videos and an editorial from transgender activists. The videos and editorial speak to the need for solemn tribute to those who have lost their lives to hate violence and to raise awareness of the constant threat of brutality faced by the transgender community.

"Over the past decade an average of one transgender person a month has been killed as a result of a hate crime," said Presbyterian minister Rev. Erin Swenson of Atlanta, Georgia during her video. "Even more frightening, these crimes are often unresolved, leaving many of us wondering if we will be next."

"When violence is allowed to take the life of some of us because of prejudice, a bit of the divine in all of us is sacrificed," said Drew Phoenix, pastor of St. John's United Methodist Church in Baltimore, Maryland, in his video. "Healing and change can only happen when we allow ourselves to see the violence and suffering as it really exists, to reflect on its cost to us as a people and to mourn such loss together."

The videos are available on the HRC Back Story blog,

HRC has also released an editorial by Diego Sanchez, Director of Public Relations & External Affairs for AIDS Action Committee, New England's first and largest AIDS organization. Sanchez also serves on HRC's Boston steering committee.

Media sources should feel free to publish his editorial, which can be found below.

The Meaning of Transgender Day of Remembrance - Diego Miguel Sanchez

A week after saluting our fallen soldiers on Veterans Day, and days before food and football feasting on Thanksgiving, we honor and reflect on our murdered transgender brothers and sisters on the International Transgender Day of Remembrance (TDOR) on Nov. 20.

For some, it's a day on the calendar. For me, it's a day of vivid, visceral feeling because I know one thing: that on any day of any year, as a transsexual Latino man, I could be among those killed. I could, like too many others-remembered or forgotten-be attacked by someone with no regard for my life, someone who may not face responsibility for his or her brutal act of violence. TDOR remembers our dead and celebrates our lives.

The penalties for killing or firing someone like me are topics of debate in the halls of Congress, in the media and at people's dinner tables. It's troubling to realize that the protections most of us take for granted must be justified for the transgender community-we must convince people of our humanity. Those attitudes are humbling in their cruelty and destructive potential.

When I was five, I told my parents that I was "born wrong." I didn't have other language for it, but I knew I felt like a boy, despite being born female. My mother embraced me and showed me a magazine cover featuring Christine Jorgensen, then the most visible transsexual woman. She held me and told me it would be okay. Like every mother, I'm sure that she wished her embrace could protect and keep me safe in the world. But it couldn't and it can't.

In the trans community, experiences like mine are rare. Life has treated me gently and kindly. I was dually socialized. Mom gave me lessons for girls. Dad gave me tools to be a wise gentleman. I studied hard, enjoyed people, sports and music and built a successful career. I've reached my 50th birthday. So many of us are murdered well before our prime. That's humbling, too.

In 1998, a transgender woman named Rita Hester was murdered in Massachusetts-a crime that remains unsolved. It was in Rita's honor that Gwen Smith of San Francisco began a tradition of taking a day to reflect upon the lives lost to hate violence, which is today known as the Transgender Day of Remembrance. I sat with Kathleen Hester, Rita's mother, at Boston's TDOR. I gained the courage to endure the pain of lives mercilessly taken when I saw her eyes and heard her speak of Rita with love and longing.

While I spent the first part of my career in Fortune 100s, the second is about social justice and healthcare access. Today at AIDS Action, I take on the thinking that trans people are less than human, undeserving of the rights and access to which other people are entitled. I challenge health insurers with policies that explicitly deny trans people coverage. I fight to eradicate discrimination against trans people in employment, public accommodations, credit and housing. And I battle the ignorance and fear that puts our community at risk of violence. Murder is the most blatant expression of hate and intolerance toward transgender people. But there are subtler forces at play that slowly do harm to the lives of transgender people-discrimination and stigma.

We transgender and transsexual people rely on each other, on allies, on biological or created families, and on society's rules to embrace us. TDOR allows others to stand beside us and to mourn those we have lost. Each year, I spend TDOR with Ethan St. Pierre, a trans activist, web radio host, and nephew of Debra Forte, another murdered transgender woman. For us, it's personal.

My work gives me a unique perspective on policy's impact and people's power. There is hope-small victories matter. This year, the Italian Parliament
will recognize TDOR, following the election of its first transgender member, Vladimir Luxuria. For the first time, both houses of Congress have approved a fully-inclusive hate crimes law that would expand protections to cover violence based on a victim's sexual orientation and gender identity.

Today, there will be 63 TDOR vigils in seven countries. Find a TDOR event near you and go. Your support matters. A full roster of events is available at Showing your humanity affirms that we are equally human.

The Human Rights Campaign is America's largest civil rights organization working to achieve gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender equality. By inspiring and engaging all Americans, HRC strives to end discrimination against GLBT citizens and realize a nation that achieves fundamental fairness and equality for all.


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