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Mourn the Dead, Fight for the Living: What Transgender Day of Remembrance Means to Me

Updated: Oct 18, 2021

From left to right: Ashanti Carmon, Johana "Joa" Medina, Layleen Polanco. / Sources, left to right: The Advocate, Diversidad Sin Fronteras,

The Human Rights Campaign reports that “at least 22 transgender or gender non-conforming people” have been “fatally shot or killed by other violent means.” Since January of this year. Compare that to the year before - 22 trans or gender non-conforming (GNC) people were killed in the United States alone. Neither of these statistics include the number of trans and GNC people killed internationally. Add to that the knowledge that the 22 listed in HRC’s 2019 report represent the known instances of fatal violence against trans and GNC people in the US. How many others exist beyond the known ones who have simply disappeared from the record?

We also shouldn’t forget that the majority of those lost this year weren’t simply trans people, but trans women, specifically black trans women and trans women of color. Many, like Ashanti Carmon, relied on sex work just to survive. Many, like Johana "Joa" Medina, were undocumented and detained. Many, like Layleen Polenco, were incarcerated. Some were victims of gun violence, others died from medical neglect, from police violence, and even from homelessness or housing insecurity. All of them should still be here.

All of them. Because none of them deserved the violence they encountered. Because all of them deserved nothing less than love, acceptance, and support. Because all of them deserved more than survival in the face of adversity. Because all of them deserved the chance to thrive without fear.

When I think about Transgender Day of Remembrance, I think about the structural inequalities that place our trans communities in the precarious situations that facilitate our killing. Racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia - the list goes on. Thus, caring for trans communities - and by default the people who comprise them - requires the kind of substantial structural change that makes life livable. The kind of support that goes beyond non-discrimination to material stability for the ones who need it most.

Too often in LGBTQ+ circles we consider visibility a viable substitute for care and support. Consider for instance the other trans days we have on our calendars: Transgender Day of Visibility and Transgender Awareness Week. While I acknowledge the importance that visibility can play, especially in terms of representation, I can’t help but wonder how such visibility becomes a liability to bear in such a trans-hostile society. We need roofs over our heads, food in our bellies, legal and medical care at our disposal - not targets on our backs

When I think of today, I think of the work required to achieve some kind of stability for all of us. We’ve still got a long way to go before all of us - every trans and GNC person - can thrive. It’s possible I believe, but not without significant change. How far will society go to support us? I wonder sometimes.

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