By Bryn Fawn
June may be Pride Month, a celebration for anyone who identifies as queer, but November is Transgender Awareness Month, which includes Transgender Awareness Week that finishes with the Transgender Day of Remembrance. While transgender individuals may have more rights and liberties than before, it is still not where it needs to be.
The current social culture surrounding transgender individuals is hostile and depressing. Trans-Exclusionary Radical Feminists side with individuals who tend to be misogynistic just to make “safe spaces for real women.” Healthcare for transgender individuals is becoming restricted and more difficult to obtain. The suicide rate is still high, especially for teenage transgender individuals.
The Trevor Project, a nonprofit organization to assist LGBT members and youth, states on their website: “LGBT youth are not inherently prone to suicide risk because of their sexual orientation or gender identity but rather placed at higher risk because of how they are mistreated and stigmatized in society. The Trevor Project’s 2022 National Survey on LGBT Youth Mental Health found that 45% of LGBT youth seriously considered attempting suicide in the past year, including more than half of transgender and nonbinary youth.”
Suicide isn’t the single major cause of transgender death, murder is. Transgender Day of Rememberance, Nov. 20, helps bring awareness to that. Commonplace activities include holding a vigil for those lost, advocating for transgender individuals and sharing the names of those lost on social media.
The day’s origins come from Rita Hester, a Black transgender woman who was killed in 1998. Gwendolyn Ann Smith, a transgender woman and founder of Transgender Day of Remembrance, had never met Hester, but found her story impactful. Hester was only two days away from her 35th birthday when she was killed. Hester loved the night life, going to queer clubs and parties, but also crossing the aisle into cisgender heterosexual spaces. Hester was known by friends and family to be bold, loving to entertain and perform and her sweetness.
Hester was not the first, and not the last transgender individual killed that year, far from it. According to Human Rights Campaign, 2021 alone saw 57 fatal violence against transgender and gender nonconforming people.
The organization Transgender Europe published to their page on Transgender Day of Remembrance, a total of 4,042 trans and gender-diverse people were reported killed in 80 countries between January 2008 and September 2021.
“It all started one night, when I spoke with a few other transgender people about the murder of Rita Hester in November 1998. I talked about how similar the death was to that of Chanelle Pickett just three years before.”
Both were transgender women of color who lived in Massachusetts, were last seen alive at a neighborhood club and died in mid-November,” Smith wrote in an article published to the Huffington Post.
Smith then founded Transgender Day of Remembrance in 1999. The day is now recognized in the United States, Canada, Australia, Poland, Russia, the Philippines and South Korea.
“The Transgender Day of Remembrance is not an event for fundraisers and beer busts. It’s not an event we “celebrate.” It is not a quick and easy one-day way for organizations to get credit for their support of the transgender community. It’s not something to trot out on the 20th of November and forget about. We should be working every day for all of us, living and dead.” Smith wrote.
Students can do a multitude of things this upcoming Nov. 20. Allies can amplify their transgender peer voices,’ share educational material online and in person and participate in nay events being held that day. Transgender students can share their stories, educate their peers and demand a vigil to be held on campus. The use of social media can leave a lasting impact, evident by the “blackout” on Instagram for the Black Lives Matter movement.
In the 2021 annual report done by University Police, it was found that “152 students who identified as women,10 students who identified as men, and five students who identified as transgender reported that they were subject to verbal sexual harassment in the prior year.”
Transgender and queer students have many resources on campus. If a hate crime occurs, report it to University Police and Title IX. If one witnesses a crime, call 911 and ensure the victim is safe. SUNY Plattsburgh has a LGBTQ+ Resource Committee that can be contacted, the LGBTQ+ Student Union and LGBTQ+ Peer Support group. Off campus, students can reach out to Adirondack North Country Gender Alliance, the organization that hosts the annual pride in downtown Plattsburgh. The organization is run by a transgender woman.
When Nov. 20 comes, take a moment to remember the thousands lost. Thousands of bright minds, kind souls and loving hearts were wiped out simply due to hatred. Support local queers, especially transgender youth. Do not forget, say their names.