Every November 20, transgender individuals and their allies around the world commemorate the Transgender Day of Remembrance. But make no mistake: this is not a holiday, and the ceremonies we hold are certainly not celebrations. Rather, the Day of Remembrance is a solemn time when we can come together and reflect upon the battles we have fought and continue to fight and those individuals we have lost—the transgender and other gender nonconforming individuals who were innocent victims of violence because of who they were, because they had the audacity to live as their authentic selves.
I would like to say I’ve never experienced this extreme sort of prejudice before, but like most trans people, I have my stories. While thank God there have never been any attempts on my life, there have been people around me who thought I would be better off—or they would be better off—if I were dead. While I was a university student in London, another young person studying there passed away, and some of my fellow African students (I am from Nigeria) made a point of saying, loudly and closely enough that they knew I would hear, that it should have been me instead.
Besides the defeating personal implications of hearing such a thing, this incident continues to be a sad reminder to me of how deeply many people undervalue transgender lives and how at any moment, someone out there could hate us enough to kill us. That it could easily be our pictures shown at memorial services on the Transgender Day of Remembrance. However, this is part of what the day is for: to remind us that we all share this heavy burden—that we are not alone in our persecution and suffering.
Is this comforting? In some ways, yes; it’s always a comfort to know someone else feels as we do. But it’s also problematic. That we even have to have such a day is, in my opinion, shameful not for those of us who participate or those we remember but for society as a whole—for the culture of conformity and hatred that keeps us hidden within ourselves, afraid to come out for fear of rejection and outright violence. I don’t want a day of remembrance; I want a pride day, like the LGB community has, or no day at all because the murders of transgender individuals have ended in every nation around the world.
How can we make this happen? How can we eradicate the need for a Transgender Day of Remembrance? In general we need more allies, more compassion, more understanding, and more tolerance. We need more safe spaces in which we can raise our voices and share our stories. We need mandatory diversity training in schools and universities, police departments, hospitals, and businesses so everyone will be aware of and understand transgender individuals and issues. We need nationwide laws to ban discrimination based on gender identity and presentation. We need all this for our safety. Most of all, we simply need the deaths to stop.
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