Transgender Day of Remembrance 2016

Honoring those lost

I have cried enough at Transgender Day of Remembrance (TDOR) memorials. It is an annual memorial ceremony held on Nov. 20 for transgender people who have lost their lives to violence in the prior year. Annual TDOR observances started in 1999, about a year after Rita Hester, a transgender woman and activist in Boston, Mass., was found murdered in her own apartment. Most major cities have TDOR memorials that occur at sundown, or later, so that the memorial candles can burn in the darkness. There is no formal protocol for this memorial which is fitting to the diverse ways in which transgender people lead their lives. However, a benediction and “the reading of the victims’ names” is most common to all. Most often, the dreadful methods by which they lost their lives is mentioned as well. These are read by the assemblers as they progress around a circle.

If you are Jewish and have visited the U.S. Holocaust Museum, or if you are black and have visited the new National Museum of African American History and Culture or a veteran at the Arlington National Cemetery — or many other museums that memorialize the persecution or loss of lives by people just like you — then you have some sense of the emotions at TDOR memorial ceremonies.

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At first, you just listen. The setting is somber. It’s a memorial after all. But, ever-so-slowly you begin to shiver in the dark. Your sense of the victims’ struggling in futility to survive, their hopelessness at being overwhelmed by their vicious attacker, their knowledge that they were losing their lives, wells up and overcomes you. These are your sisters, brothers and everybody in-between — all gender non-conforming people who did nothing more than live their lives as best they could, just as you do. And, then the emotion breaks through. Your cheeks are wet, and you are sobbing. Your tummy is tight and you look around the circle and see parents, allies and families who have assembled in remembrance of the losses they have personally experienced. They are sobbing too. And, so, there is a sense of camaraderie in sharing the grief that is, at the same time, comforting and disturbing. We must experience this together.

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Yes, I realize that there are all kinds of victims of all types of violent crime. But, these are people just like me; victims of a crime targeted out of fear, bigotry and prejudice. These are crimes and victims known by very few that rarely are solved, leaving murders on the streets to victimize people, just like me, again.

I have cried enough at TDOR memorials.

info: Elaine Martin is a transgender activist and speaker, a former board chair of Equality NC, retired banking executive and former business owner. She joined Total Engagement Consulting by Kimer as a transgender diversity consultant to provide deep expertise around organizational transgender diversity and transitioning employee coaching. She can be contacted at elaine@totalengagementconsulting.com.

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